My Daughter Should Be Able To Get Birth Control Without My Permission
Like many of my peers in the roles of mom or dad, the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision hit very hard. The loss of access to contraception, while something I’ve worried about politically for years, always felt a little more of the worst-case scenario than imminent. Although my daughter is just six, my immediate response was fear: what if when she’s a teenager she wants (needs, actually) contraception, doesn’t want to discuss this with me, and can’t obtain it?
Don’t get me wrong. In my perfect scenario, she will talk to me about her decision to become sexually active and she will do so responsibly. In my perfect scenario, I’ll feel comfortable with her decision and, more importantly, she’ll feel so comfortable that she doesn’t experience a pull to hide her choices from me. However, I already have two teenagers (boys) and they have friends who are girls – unwilling or possibly unable to tell their moms about their desires and decisions. I realize with those young women, I care much more about their ability to garner access to birth control than whether they tell their parents. Contraceptives beat sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies and the potential scramble for a Morning After Pill, whether your mother endorses sex in the first place or not.
I flashed last week to all the Catholic teens I met during my two years as an abortion counselor in a health clinic. Here was what happened to a one: “I didn’t get birth control because that’s a sin,” I’d hear. “I can’t have a baby, because then my parents would know I had sex before marriage.” Often, these teens worried they’d be forced to continue the pregnancy—and either raise a child or be compelled to “choose” adoption. Those weren’t their choices. And so, they opted for abortion in order to cover over the other transgressions they feared would have terrible repercussions within their families.
Had these teens just gotten birth control, I thought again and again, how much easier it might have been. And this was in the late 1980’s when the one thing that was true is those teens, especially in the Northeastern part of the country, could obtain contraception (and quite possibly, depending upon different factors, for free). Fast forward to a decade or so from now: I want nothing less for my daughter.
The most recent statistics from the Guttmacher Institute tell me that my fears are reasonable, since “the proportion of women at risk who are not using a method is highest among 15–19-year-olds (18%).” According to Guttmacher: “While 21 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow minors to obtain contraceptive services without a parent’s involvement, and another 25 states have affirmed that right for certain classes of minors, four states have no law. So far, in the absence of a specific law, courts have determined that minors’ privacy rights include the right to obtain contraceptive services.” It’s also true that teen pregnancy rates have declined, mainly due to awareness about AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. There’s no guarantee (possibly the opposite) to assure that trend continues, though.
More likely is this scenario: my daughter will have less easy access to contraception than I did or than those young women I worked with did. As a parent, I’m primarily concerned my children have the right to make this decision responsibly. My definition of “responsibly” isn’t about a true love or anything like that; it’s about taking steps to avoid a sexually transmitted infection and unprotected pregnancy, and it’s about feeling ready to take that step. “Responsibly” implies the ability to do so independently.
I do not know whether love, deep like, or curiosity will inform that choice—and I hope to respect whatever reasoning is employed if I’m privy to the decision. But my hope is that I don’t need to know anything, because there will (pretty please, Supreme Court and legislators) a safe way for my daughter to access exactly what she needs—without my help.
If my daughter (doesn’t legally or otherwise logistically require) my help, I hope I remember that all I wanted was to be able to offer my support, without judgment. I hope I remember to feel grateful that my support is optional.