On Aug. 27, The Bee ran an article about Fresno Unified School District Trustee Terry Slatic’s questioning of a program for driving students off campus to receive reproductive health. Parents may be aware that reproductive health services are available to students — but they may not know that those services include abortion, and that the school can lie to keep parents from knowing about their daughter’s surgical procedure.
The program of transporting students off campus is run by the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, taking students to the FEOC’s health center. According to the health center’s website, the program seeks to facilitate access to reproductive health and family planning for children 12 to 19 years of age without parental consent or awareness. Transportation of the child to the Fresno EOC health centeris therefore free and occurs during school hours, under the confidentiality of the child’s school nurse, counselor, or case worker.
Once at the Health Center, the child has access to a variety of services, including contraceptives, STD testing, and pregnancy tests. The list currently present on the program’s website includes other services along the same nature, but it ends with a vague “referrals for other services,” a euphemistic phrase with a broad meaning that includes referrals for medication and surgical abortions. This, too, requires no parental consent or knowledge.
After calling the phone number on their website, I learned that a minor can have access to abortion services by receiving a referral from the EOC Health Center to Planned Parenthood or the FPA Women’s Health Clinic. More shockingly, if her parents call the school, the school has the choice to deny that the child has even left school grounds. As far as the parents are concerned, their child is present at school. Meanwhile, the child possibly faces medical decisions that can result in serious consequences to her body.
Evidently, this program exists on the assumption that all teenage children, including pre-teen 12-year-olds, possess the rationale to make well-informed decisions that will only optimize their sexual, reproductive health and autonomy. Such assumptions, however, are obviously disturbing to any parents desiring to protect and inform their children. It disturbs any parent who knows the weight of sexual and reproductive decisions, who also knows that childhood decisions often succumb to a limited perspective.
A reasonable question underlies the HEARTT program: is it ethical, especially as it pertains to abortion services, to offer a child choices of significant gravity while not only isolating her from her parents’ counsel, but also denying the parents any influence on the well-being of her whose life they must answer for? Another question inevitably arises: Do parents, who send their kids to school in good faith that the school will protect them, not have a right to know where their child is?
It is easy to imagine that, indeed, the parents or guardians of a 12-year-old girl assume that they, above anyone else, have the right to the whereabouts of their child and that their counsel, as the people who know her best, matters. The assumption that a program like HEARTT functions on implies that parental judgement and influence are unnecessary in the reproductive health of their child, that such judgement often stands in contradiction to what is best for the child.
Abortion procedures are not a simple visit to the doctor. The complexity of the procedure varies depending on whether it is a surgical or medical abortion. Based on the experiences of many women who have undergone abortions or experienced other forms of pregnancy loss, the physical and psychological consequences may last long after the abortion takes place. And for a child dependent on her parents, these consequences will inevitably require the intervention of her parents to pick up the pieces.
The consequences of abortion cannot be handled by a child alone. Even the potential side effects of altering one’s hormones with birth control (yes, less risky than abortion but not as uneventful as taking ibuprofen) can be a heavy burden for a girl encouraged to keep her physical hardships and fluctuations in isolation from her parents’ awareness. This is the reality ignored by HEARTT and, unfortunately, California law. The teen years already possess their own natural difficulties. It is not a time of expertise about one’s body, let alone of making life-changing decisions regarding the unfamiliar and intimidating territory of sexuality and reproduction.
Certainly, there should be procedures in place for children in an unsafe home situation to keep potentially dangerous medical information confidential from an abusive parent or guardian. California’s current law surrounding reproductive health care goes too far in the opposite direction. The FEOC should be subject to reasonable questions about why they are involved in a program that is so dismissive of legitimate parental concern.
Michelle Ferrer Alvarez is a student at Fresno State.