I am sitting in a training for K-12 educators and suddenly overcome by emotion. My eyes well up with tears, waves of nausea grip my stomach, and my face pales in pain. These changes in my demeanor are almost imperceptible over Zoom, hidden by a small screen and masked by the flawless filter.
But there is nothing flawless about this topic. It is all flaws: rough, gnarled, and grief-stricken.
Today’s agenda: confidential medical care. In California, minors can be excused from school to receive confidential medical care for a variety of issues including pregnancy, contraception, and abortion. Confidentiality relates to the child’s parents or guardians. This means that parental consent and court approval are not needed; a pregnant child of any age (think ages 12, 13, or 14) can leave school, go have an abortion, and the school cannot tell the child’s parents (American Academy of Pediatrics v. Lungren 16 Cal.4th 307 (1997)).
I feel sick inside. Not only do I think this is morally and ethically wrong, but this is a practice I am expected to uphold and enforce.
The trainers then provide us with the following scenario, “A pupil informs school staff that she has a medical appointment with Planned Parenthood and does not want her parents to know. She leaves school at 1:00 p.m., and her absence is recorded as excused due to a medical appointment. Later, the parent demands to know what it was for. How should the school respond?”
Writing “Planned Parenthood appointment” on the student’s record is considered too specific because it reveals the general nature of the medical care. Therefore, the correct answer is that the school should redact the part of the education record that indicates the purpose of the medical appointment. More specifically, the record should state, “the student has an excused absence and California law does not allow for further information concerning the absence.” This same response should be provided to a parent who is in the school office demanding answers about their own child!
Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe. I glance over to the Zoom chat, expecting to read cries of outrage from my fellow colleagues. But it’s business as usual: technical questions; further clarification; and a blinking cursor that symbolizes the shame of my silence. Shouldn’t I be crying out and taking a stand?
Instead, I am left alone to ponder and reflect. It wasn’t so long ago that I considered myself a pro-choice born-again Christian evangelical. These terms seem contradictory, but once upon a time in my mind, they made perfect sense. I was never pro-abortion, just pro-choice. I believed that a woman had the right to choose, similar to free will. In my misguided thinking, I did not realize that by being pro-choice, I was also pro-abortion.
Then I had a critical life event that changed everything for me. It started six years ago when I could not get pregnant.
At the time, anything having to do with babies was on my radar, so on my morning commute to work, I was drawn to a pro-life radio broadcast series from Chuck Swindoll at Insight for Living Ministries. I was going through fertility treatments, and God’s timing was perfect.
A week or so after the conclusion of Swindoll’s pro-life series, my husband and I sat at our dining room table consumed with paperwork to sign and decisions to make about our potential future children.
The biggest decision was about embryos. Fertility treatments are a numbers game. It is not uncommon for couples to generate more healthy embryos than they can use. For example, if seven embryos are created and the couple only desires two children, what is to become of the remaining five embryos? They can be donated to research, disposed of, stay frozen until they expire, or be given to another couple.
In that critical life moment, my decision was so easy: I would give any additional embryos – who could grow to be my biological children – to a couple in need. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was pro-life. My husband had known it all along. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was tested with this very important decision that I really knew where I stood.
Herein lies the problem. It is so easy to default to a pro-choice standpoint under the guise of a woman having the right to do what she wants with her body. A woman does have the right to do what she wants with her body, but I have some big news here… the baby is not the woman’s body! A baby is its own body and its own life, from the time of conception.
With all of this in mind, I circle back to the law, and the difficult training I attended. What are parents to do to prevent their daughters from having abortions without their consent or knowledge?
The answer is to reframe the knowledge. I highly recommend that parents go to YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, etc., to preview the movie Unplanned and determine if it would be an appropriate choice to watch with their preteen or teenage children. While maybe uncomfortable at times, Unplanned tells the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year, who God used to become a pro-life activist.
More than anything, parents must have those critical and difficult conversations with their children. How sad is it for a 14-year-old child to feel so ashamed, afraid, and alone in the world that she cannot tell her parents that she is pregnant? This is not to negate teachings of abstinence and purity, but rather for children to know that there is nothing that they can do that will separate them from the love of their parents. Just like there is nothing that we can do that will separate us from the love of God. Strong families and neighborhoods overwhelm broken and misguided laws, essentially crushing trainings like the one I attended with the most powerful message of all: LIFE.