I was surprised this afternoon when I clicked on a link in someone’s Twitter post in the #prolife channel and found a picture of a high school I know well — a school where my mother taught for several years, halls I walked during and after seeing music and drama performances, the facade I drove by every day on my way to and from work and doctor’s appointments. That picture was next to a headline I imagine many people found shocking: “Mother furious after in-school clinic sets up daughter’s abortion.”
The story was, it seems, immediately picked up by antiabortion news sites and blogs, despite an obvious dearth of real information on what happened. Most people are blaming the school for everything, despite the fact that the clinic where she had a pregnancy test is not operated by the school, but by Swedish Medical Center, a local group that operates two hospitals (and where I’ve had two surgeries and countless treatments) and has an excellent local reputation. Many of the blogs and sites that repeated the story along with commentary make it sound like the school staff “arranged” the abortion and the taxi that transported the girl to the clinic where the procedure was done.
However, you have to view this story in the context of Washington State law, which not only provides that female patients can consent to abortion at any age, but does not require parental consent OR notification. If this girl had gone to a clinic off campus, the exact same thing would have occurred — she would have been given a pregnancy test, and they probably would have asked her if she wanted information on her options, including abortion. If she said yes, they would have given her a referral to a clinic and answered any questions she had about the laws and whether they would have to notify her parents. Which is exactly what it sounds like happened at the clinic — which, again, was operated by a local medical center, NOT the school.
It’s also worth noting that the mother, “Jill,” had signed a paper saying that her daughter could be treated at the clinic, and the paper included specific mentions of reproductive health care along with mental health care and substance abuse treatment as types of care they could provide. “Jill” even states that she knew her daughter could get birth control at the clinic without her parents being notified.
When you’re over 13 in Washington State, doctors no longer have to inform your parents about what happens at your doctor’s visits, and conversations with your doctor become private between you and the doctor. I distinctly remember when I turned 13 being told this, and being relieved that I could talk to my doctor about anything and not have to worry.
Personally, I don’t see much of a story here. If the clinic had not been located at the school, there wouldn’t have been anything to report about. It also looks, from a Google News search, that only one of the local news outlets — KOMO 4 News — initially reported the story, and all other reports quote that original, which makes me think that the mother sought the media out, probably to bring criticism on the school. Why she isn’t blaming the clinic is beyond me. Because Swedish operated and staffed the clinic, even though it was located on the school campus, a visit there would be identical to a visit to one of their other facilities, and the same laws — HIPAA, consent, etc. — would apply.
If anyone should be blamed here, in my opinion, it’s “Jill” — to me it’s a logical extension of understanding a clinic can prescribe birth control that the same clinic could provide referrals and information about reproductive health matters that couldn’t be handled there, such as abortion. If she felt so strongly about being involved in her daughter’s health care, she shouldn’t have signed the release that allowed her daughter to be treated at the clinic. Their family doctor could have provided any services the clinic provided, and if her daughter was sick at school she could have called mom to be taken to the family doc. Did mom sign the clinic form because it was convenient to have minor health issues taken care of on campus at the clinic, rather than missing a day of work to take her daughter to the doctor? Did she have a problem with the idea of her daughter getting birth control without mom’s knowledge — something the form mom signed seems to have made clear?
And there’s the big question — what was it that made this girl so scared to tell her parents she was pregnant that she left school to have an abortion that she knew her parents could not find out about unless she told them? (The logical follow-up question is, of course, what happened to get her to tell her parents what she did?)
I think there’s an answer to this in the original KOMO article: “Jill says her daughter, a pro-life advocate, was given a pass, put in a taxi and sent off to have an abortion during school hours all without her family knowing.” (Emphasis mine.) How pro-life could this girl be if she chose to have an abortion? It suggests to me that it’s the mother who is pro-life, and that she wants her daughter to feel as strongly about it as she did. It also sounds to me like mom’s in a bit of denial — her daughter must have been coerced into the abortion, must have been talked to it by those awful clinic people, who must be (to borrow a term from Jill Stanek) “pro-aborts” who didn’t even give her daughter a chance to think about what she was doing.
The bottom line here is that everyone involved acted within the law. The clinic staff treated the daughter, not the mother, and gave the treatment and information asked of them. The facility that actually performed the abortion did so with the daughter’s consent, and neither the mother’s consent or notification is required under the law. In fact, if either the clinic at the school or the facility where the abortion was done had notified the parents, they would have been breaking the law.
I want to end this with a caveat: if it turns out that this girl was pressured or coerced into having an abortion, I would never, ever support such actions. If, however, it happened as it sounds today and this was the girl’s choice without coercion, I am 100% behind this clinic and the school and support their actions. If I had been pregnant at 15, I would probably have done the same thing and been extremely glad the clinic was there. My dad told me when I was a teenager that he and my mom would disown me and kick me out if I got pregnant, and while I’m not sure that’s what they’d really have done — after all, it’s taken them almost 7 years to get to the point of being ready to kick out my drug- and alcohol-addicted brother — I don’t think I’d have wanted to face them until I’d handled the situation by having an abortion, or until I’d decided to keep the baby and formulated a plan to do it.
I still don’t see much of a story here. And I’m sorry that Ballard High, a pretty decent school overall, is becoming the center of what shouldn’t be a controversy at all.