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Teen Pregnancy

This material courtesy of Gail Metcalf.

There is very good education in our schools now about teen sex, the precautions and devices to prevent pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). But no prevention method is 100% safe. And it is important to know that teen legal rights to engage in all types of sexual activity is regulated by state. In some states teens are forbidden to have sexual intercourse, including homosexual intercourse under a specified age. Every state attempts to regulate teen sex through statutory rape laws. These laws are intended to preserve community standards and morality. In a few states, some morality laws are still in place to prevent sex between unmarried adults.

Laws in all states today make it legal for teens of all ages to use contraceptives. Nonprescription contraceptives do not need parental consent to be purchased by teens. The stores that sell these contraceptives to teens are not required to report the purchase to the teen’s parents. Prescription contraceptives now come under the law stating that minors need parental consent for medical treatment. In at least 24 states a minor is legally entitled to give consent for prescription contraceptives. There are no states that explicitly require parental consent, although there are a few states that specify an age when parental consent is no longer needed.

Although public schools cannot legally distribute contraceptives to minors, underage teens are entitled to counseling and family planning services from family planning agencies like Planned Parenthood. These agencies are federally authorized and funded, some only partially.

Agencies like Planned Parenthood obtain operating money through Title X. A Title X-funded clinic, like Planned Parenthood, provides their services regardless of age or marital status. A young person can easily qualify since their financial resources are considered separate from their parents. Title X-funded clinics are therefore the best source for contraceptives for sexually active young teens. Four out of ten teens who will not ask their parents for consent to use a contraceptive turn to Title X agencies like Planned Parenthood. A confidential visit to a family planning clinic can literally prevent a pregnancy.

Abortions have been legal in the United States since 1973 since the famous case of Roe v. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court. The decision in this case made abortion a private decision that the Constitution protects from “excessive government interference”. Roe v. Wade made a distinction between when the fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Before the fetus is “viable” – able to live outside the womb, a woman has the constitutional right to choose an abortion. This viable period is estimated to occur 12 to 13 weeks after conception.

The individual states can pass laws to restrict abortion in certain cases. These restrictions concern cases where the procedure is likely to endanger the woman’s life or her health. This usually applies to the second trimester, the 4 – 6 month period. In the last trimester, states can legally forbid abortions. These restrictions don’t interfere with a woman’s constitutional right to privacy and therefore, are legal.

Due to the Roe v. Wade decision, teens of any age have a legal right to choose an abortion, whether married or single. In most states, parental consent is required to obtain an abortion. The Supreme Court ruled that states must have a “judicial bypass procedure” to protect a minor’s privacy rights in abortion cases. This allows a teenage woman to petition a family court to order that parental notice or consent be bypassed.

An underage teen cannot be forced to have an abortion by her parents and she doesn’t need the approval of her sex partner to obtain an abortion. All women have a constitutional right to decide about having children without interference from anyone.

Obtaining an abortion is not free and federal money is not available to pay the expense except in situations of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger. The Supreme Court confirmed that neither the federal government or the states are required to fund abortions, even if they fund pregnancy-related services.

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