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In 13 States, Parents Can Force Teen Moms to Give Birth Without an Epidural

Across the country, minors are required to get parental consent for "non-emergency" medical care. But when there's no exception for pregnancy, teenagers suffer for it.
Photo by Tommaso Tuzj via Stocksy

In Ohio, pregnant minors are required by law to get parental consent for all, non-emergency medical care. This means that many young women go without prenatal care, and crucial care during labor, if they are estranged from their parents. It also means that parents who are controlling—or abusive—have the ability to make medical decisions that harm teen moms.

Maureen Sweeney, a Cleveland-area nurse, told the story of a pregnant teen runaway to WOSU. "She was by herself and she was living on the streets or between friends houses," Sweeney said.


During the painful labor process, the 15-year-old girl requested an epidural, but Sweeney could not provide her with the treatment because it's considered to be elective. "[The anesthesia department] said that without parental consent that she would not be able to sign for her own epidural," she told the publication.

Throughout the country, minors need parental consent before getting medical treatment, but most states make exceptions for specific situations—counseling for substance abuse, for instance, or getting birth control. According to WOSU, Ohio is one of 13 states that do not make exceptions in their parental consent laws for pregnant minors, leaving teen moms vulnerable and without access to vital "non-emergency" care.

Ohio state representatives recently introduced a bill to amend this dangerous policy after Sweeney contacted Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) about the issue.

Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) is a co-sponsor of the bill. "A lot of people don't know that this is an ongoing problem," Boggs told Broadly over the phone. "This can be devastating."

During Boggs' own pregnancy, she added, she had a thyroid issue that would have increased her chances of miscarrying if she had not been able to get a prescription from her OBGYN to correct it. "I started thinking about a young woman who is estranged from their family because they are unsupportive of her pregnancy," Boggs said. "If she found out she had this condition, she wouldn't be able to treat it. That's terrible."

In some cases, parents use the law as a form of control over their daughters. "Parents can deny an epidural because they view [the pain of giving birth] as a punishment," Boggs continued. "I also heard a story from a young girl who couldn't get a Caesarian when her OBGYN diagnosed that it was necessary. The patient's mother was adamant that she was going to have a natural birth."

She added, "I absolutely think that is an abusive parental power."

Advocates say that it is paramount for young people to have control over their medical care. "I think that young people should have full control over their reproductive healthcare because it is their body. It is their right. It is their choice," Jasmine Burnett, the deputy director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, told Broadly.

"We're already cutting out critical sex education for young people, and many young people don't have access to contraceptives. There's also shame and stigma connected to being a young parent," she continued. "If young people decide that they do want to become a parent, we need to make sure they feel empowered."