A teen in New York may see her future lying in the results of an autopsy being conducted by a medical examiner, while another teen in Iowa will learn if she will be tried as a juvenile or an adult. In both cases the teens gave birth, and in each circumstance authorities are weighing whether or not the girls should be charged with crimes. However in reality, the true crime is how young women who have possibly made poor decisions and lack knowledge are facing life behind bars because anti-choice policy makers control legislatures and school boards.
Little detail is available about the case of a 15-year-old girl in Libertyville, Iowa, other than she apparently gave birth and that less than 24 hours later an infant was found dead in a closet in her home. Now, the unnamed girl, too young for a drivers license, is being charged with Child Endangerment Resulting in Death. If tried as an adult, she could spend 50 years in jail.
In the case of a 17-year-old New York teen, more is known. That girl also gave birth, in this case allegedly at a friend’s house, and claims that she wasn’t sure what to do with the fetus, which she was carrying in a bag with her when she was arrested for shoplifting at a local store. Police initially claimed that the fetus was born alive and asphyxiated, but the autopsy so far is inconclusive.
It’s this fact that the autopsy was inconclusive so far, but that they will continue to do more testing that should be just as alarming as the fact that a 15-year-old is in danger of serving 50 years in jail because a dead newborn was found in a closet. There is no reason to continue investigating the New York fetal evidence unless there was a plan to charge the teen who gave birth with a crime, much as they are doing in Iowa. This brings us to a disturbing new trend in charging young, pregnant girls with crimes simply for not knowing enough about their bodies, their options, or possibly being too scared to get the health care that they need.
Anti-choice policies are becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of harm to teen girls in the United States, and purposefully so. By refusing to allow real, comprehensive, age appropriate sex education in classrooms, anti-choice legislators are creating a generation of teens unsure of exactly what causes pregnancy and most definitely how to prevent it, other than “just don’t ever have sex.” For those teens who don’t follow that golden rule, because there is no access to birth control to prevent a pregnancy or abortion to terminate it, we have more girls, at continually younger ages, giving birth.
To those who believe in no sex outside of marriage, ever, that’s a victory. A pregnant teen in a school, a girl who was unable to hide the “consequences” of sex by preventing pregnancy or obtaining an abortion, serves as an even better warning to her fellow students and friends than any abstinence only sex ed class ever could. She is the walking sign of exactly what a girl will have in store for her if she dares to have sexual relations.
But what benefits their movement harms the girls themselves. Because of a lack of education about how their bodies work, they may not even know they are pregnant until far into their pregnancies, meaning that their health and the health of the baby can be endangered by lack of prenatal care. They may not know where to get assistance or be too ashamed to do so. Some care may be impossible to obtain without a parent’s assistance, such as in North Dakota, where access to second or third trimester care can only be granted if a parent consents.
Some may even go into labor and give birth, never entirely sure that they were pregnant in the first place or, if they suspected they were, even knowing when they were due.
Because of these policies, we are ripe for a surge in cases of teens giving birth and having those births be premature, be stillborn, be outside of hospitals and without medical care, and result in harm to the baby if it is born, as well as the minor giving birth. Yet instead of addressing the gaps in education, the lack of health care being offered to these young women, or finding new ways to address these tragic circumstances, it seems as if the biggest focus is on finding a crime to charge them with.
Is the threat of a jail sentence supposed to be the new way to convince a pregnant teen to make sure she gets her monthly or weekly check ups when pregnant, or that she is in the presence of a medical professional and not hiding at a friends home or in her closet when she gives birth? Do we really think that charging minors with child endangerment minors who are in fact children themselves is likely to stop teens from making a bad decision such as hiding a baby after they’ve just given birth and are weak and frightened?
Have we really hit a point where we are more interested in putting a post-partum teen in jail than teaching her how to prevent pregnancy in the first place? As these cases continue to pile up, it’s becoming clearer that the answer to that question is “yes.”
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