Keep a minor on birth control?
September 16, 2010 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Can a parent/guardian do anything to keep a minor on birth control?

My parents are the legal guardians of my niece, who is now 16. She has been very difficult and rebellious for many years now. About two years ago she was put on Norplant type birth control, but now she has gotten it removed and is talking about wanting to get pregnant with her boyfriend. My parents do not need the additional chaos that this would introduce on top of the difficulties they already face in raising my niece, and she is by no stretch of the imagination ready to be a good parent. So the question is what, if anything, can be done to keep her on birth control? My searching has mainly turned up information on the minor's right to get birth control without parental approval, and very little about the reverse. They live in NM if that matters. Based on past experience, attempts to reason with my niece are likely to be futile.
posted by doctord to Law & Government (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you realize what you are asking? The girl has every right to be on or off birth control. If the parents don't want her getting pregnant they should not allow her to spend time with her boyfriend.
posted by lakerk at 4:22 PM on September 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

Can a parent/guardian do anything to keep a minor on birth control?

They can tell her that they'll kick her out of the house and cut her off financially if she goes off birth control and gets pregnant. For this to have any chance of success, it can't be the start of round of back and forth. It needs to be a statement delivered with straightforward finality.

From that point its up to her.
posted by alms at 4:24 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't believe that they can, as that seems to be something along the lines of forcing medical treatment on someone. I know that there are times when minors are forced to undergo medical treatment against their own will (because you know, they haven't lived long enough so they don't have any rights but I digress,) however I'm not entirely sure that birth control would be counted as something we the parents or guardians are given that power.
I imagine her age would also be a problem, as she is rather close to 18.

Besides that I would suggest actually talking to her, I assume you have already, but I would make forcing a medical treatment on her the very last choice.
posted by lauratheexplorer at 4:24 PM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: This PDF summarizes HIPAA rights for New Mexico-- and seems to suggest that minors can consent to prenatal care and other forms of reproductive health treatment on their own.

You would have to get a lawyer to clarify the full extent of the law here, but I suspect their recourse is solely disciplinary and not legal.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:29 PM on September 16, 2010

i went to school with a lot of girls who were forced on norplant. it was always awful, it always made them more rebellious, and it was embarrassing for them.

forcing a woman to take or not take birth control is really very grotesque, no matter what your personal opinions of her are.
posted by nadawi at 4:29 PM on September 16, 2010 [19 favorites]

If your parents are the kind of people who would try to keep her on birth control against her will, maybe that explains why she won't listen to them. If she won't listen to your parents, maybe she would listen to you? Or someone else that she respects? You could also try convincing her boyfriend.
posted by k. at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The depo-provera shot lasts for three months.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do you realize what you are asking?
lakerk, that introduction to your answer is condescending and unnecessary. The asker clearly understands the minor's rights either way and wants clarification on where the rights of the custodial parent come in, if at all.

doctord- Ask your parents to have a formal meeting with her (maybe with a third party present) outlining the consequences if she chooses to become pregnant (i.e. Having a child is completely your decision, and an adult one; we will treat you as such, and this is what that means...). It'd work best if they only list things that they are willing to follow through on.
posted by variella at 4:35 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

all birth control comes with warnings - but depo has it's own list. including possible irreversible bone loss.
posted by nadawi at 4:37 PM on September 16, 2010

please check your memail.
posted by vincele at 4:38 PM on September 16, 2010

And I'd just like to add, as the big sister of an adopted teen whose mental and emotional disorders contributed to her risky behaviors and very premature sexual activity, that I don't think my parents' intervention in her health and medication, be it prophylactic or not, is something strangers on the internet could accurately judge. Parents are responsible for their minor children's health. Parents can use many forms of pressure to get a girl to take medication if they believe it's in her best interest. That's not against the law. It's not pretty, but

This question isn't about improving the relationship or the girl's attitude. It's about how to ensure her temporary sterility. The depo-provera shot is probably the surest way.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:39 PM on September 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

the question is can the parents force her to take the Depo. unless there's some mental retardation issues that give them a larger swath of control, i think the answer is no.

all things being normal, a 16 year old is responsible for her sexual health.
posted by nadawi at 4:44 PM on September 16, 2010

Forcing her to stay on birth control is just going to make her want to exert her independence even more. She's trying to be defiant and trying to show that she believes she is grown up enough to make her own decisions and to control her own fate. Anything that takes away from that feeling of control is going to make her more defiant.

I'm not saying that encouraging her to get knocked up is going to make her disinterested in doing it, but it sounds like what she needs is someone truly on her side, not someone trying to take even more control away from her.

Worst case: some kids are just bad seeds and there isn't anything you can do to stop that. If that's the case, her family has to just let her learn her own lessons. At the least, with a good support system she will be able to recover from her mistakes once she truly grows up and realizes she wasn't ready for the responsibility of a child.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:44 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

alms: "Can a parent/guardian do anything to keep a minor on birth control?

They can tell her that they'll kick her out of the house and cut her off financially if she goes off birth control and gets pregnant.

I think this is bad advice. Demonstrating a willingness to abandon a child who's previously been abandoned is, to me, a worse parenting act than even very draconian imposed birth control. Don't present a child with the option to become homeless.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:46 PM on September 16, 2010 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Your parents need to talk to a lawyer, and, depending on how old the boyfriend is, the police.

I'm thinking most of their legal options fall under the realm of having her declared incompetent or unruly or dependent on the state by a judge. They probably have a better shot if she's ignoring other health matters (taking illegal drugs, not taking prescribed medication) or engaging in truancy (lots and lots of it) or criminal behavior.

I am not a lawyer. They need to talk to one. You probably can't do much. Chances are she will have a baby. Her fertile years may come down to them having to repeatedly ask for custody of each of her children, in turn, when they are taken away from her.

To put it another way: my mom deals with abuse, neglect, and dependency cases as a prosecutor. She has frequent fliers - women who have four or more children who have been taken away from them, in turn, when born on crack or heroin or beat up by the new boyfriend or allowed to wander naked in the streets at 2am. It's a battle to make sure the babies aren't allowed to go home with these women in the first place. They don't always get the case together on time. Sometimes one manages not to be born addicted. Then they wait, for the mom to flunk a drug test (because she's on probation, of course) or for a neighbor to make a credible report.

You know what they can't do, with these women who have foisted all of their many children (who are all scarred for life) onto the state and generally acted like the scum of the earth? Put them on forcible birth control. That's not how we roll in a free society. The consequences are pretty awful (and get awful pretty fast.) The consequences of forcible birth control are, generally speaking, much worse. Heck, even convicted pedophiles have to give consent for sterilization and similar treatments (usually in exchange for a shorter sentence or less stringent parole terms.)

But, since your niece is a minor, you might have some luck with a judge. Or rather your parents will. After they call a lawyer.
posted by SMPA at 4:49 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - folks, either be helpful or go do something else, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:22 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few other ideas that were batted around in my family: classics, aren't they?

Going to live with grandma and grandpa for [long period of time] in [harm-free rural location]. This wouldn't have been taken as "an abandonment" in my family's case, though. YMMV.

Changing her school. Considering the continuation school, considering the Christian school. Any change of scene which she accepts, which doesn't result in her taking off altogether, which puts obstacles between her and the likeliest sexual partners is a valuable delay to pregnancy, from the parenting perspective.

Of course, restriction from sexual partners is also a typical response, but when you have a kid sneaking out at 2am, that ship has pretty well sailed.

You know what works sometimes? Bargaining.

If you take the depo shot, I'll buy you Seven jeans. A gold-plated gigapet. Whatever. Get what you want for them, money and crap isn't really an object. If it works, do it again in three months. Cheaper than boarding school.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:25 PM on September 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

They can get a free DVD of the first season of 16 and Pregnant from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Have her stay in for a weekend and watch it, and so should they. And then they should all talk about it, together. Talk and listen.
posted by rtha at 5:48 PM on September 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

Play a tape of screaming six month old at full volume at 2:00 AM. Repeatedly.

And have her do a google search on long term medical consequences teenage birth. Skip the poverty issue, go straight to the medical consequences to her and the child.

Play the tape again that night. Send the boyfriend a copy.

And start talking to him and his parents about marriage and responsibility and how much are the grooms parents going to pony up to help out the happy couple? Tape it maybe for the girl's benefit. In case she's at all the romantic type. (Is there a shotgun around the house?)

Logic is not going to do much, but a touch of fear might.

Not kidding, by the way. When the usual buttons clearly aren't working, you have to start hitting at random.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:51 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even if the girl were developmentally disabled, the parents CANNOT force her to take birth control. She has to make her own, medically informed decision to accept it. Your parents have no legal recourse or backing which will allow them to do this.

They only have the option of consequences, really.
posted by onhazier at 6:40 PM on September 16, 2010

Ask the boyfriend's parents if they're prepared to cover 18 years of child support, or up to that until he can pay it.
posted by Slinga at 7:55 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

While they don't have the option to force her onto birth control, they do have the option to take away her car, not let her go anywhere unsupervised with her boyfriend, not even allow her to see her boyfriend at all if necessary. If the boyfriend does not have responsible parents, that could very well mean that she's allowed for awhile only to go to school, come home, and see him in her home on pre-arranged evenings with her grandparents there. Switch schools if necessary. Take her to school and pick her up if necessary. Send her off to stay with family members in another state if possible. There are options.

Will any of those options work for a 16-year-old intent on having a baby? Probably not.

Girls who are desperate to do this do not have a vision for their future, their adulthood. They don't see themselves as able to do more with their lives. She needs goals. If she really loves and wants children, frame those goals in terms of creating a life in which her kids will get to have awesome lives, too. Frame it as something that is not just some remote possibility but something she can absolutely do. She's got at least the possibility of the NM lottery scholarship ahead of her--that is an awesome deal if she can be turned on to the possibilities life has.

Preventing her from having a baby will maybe reduce one possible negative impact to her future of the worldview she has now... but that would be one among so many. Plenty of girls who don't have babies in high school still have them in the 18-22 sort of age bracket, they still don't finish or even start college, they still end up poor. If you treat her like a lost cause, she will be a lost cause.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:58 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

i went to school with a lot of girls who were forced on norplant. it was always awful, it always made them more rebellious, and it was embarrassing for them.

A LOT of girls? Really? I am...well, astonished.

OP, in answer to your question, I can certainly understand and empathize with your parents' frustration. However, birth control is, at this moment in time under law, a woman's right to choose for herself in the U.S., which I believe is where you are writing from? Not sure. I don't want to get into the morality of this, though I support that right, as it does not answer your question. The point is, they can't legally compel her to take birth control, and I bet your niece knows this.

That being said, she is 16, and if her boyfriend is much older, your parents may have some leverage. Technically if she is a minor in your state (again, don't know where you are writing from), IF the boyfriend is over the age of consent, then we may be dealing with statutory rape. So, if the daughter will not accept a rational, well-reasoned argument against getting pregnant, perhaps the parents can threaten her that they will press charges against the boyfriend if she ends up pregnant. It's not something I would want to do, and I'm not saying it's right. But jail is scary, and being apart from boyfriend because he is in jail? Teen won't want that. So it is possible that the threat will at least get your niece's attention.

I'm sorry you and your parents are going through this. Sounds like a difficult situation all around.
posted by misha at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2010

yes, a lot of girls. i went to a different school every year and at each school i hung out with some where between 3-6 girls that all had a norplant and nearly all of them were pissed about it. some were younger sisters of out of control girls and some were the out of control girls. so - 6 years, 4 girls on average - that gives us what i would term as a lot of girls. the funny thing about small communities and towns is that parenting ideas seemed to be shared in the same way bread recipes are. so - one girl ends up pregnant, a group of women sit around and discuss how one puts little jenny on birth control, another says her little suzy won't take it, and a third says - have them put in a norplant.

the girls i was closest to really resented there parents and doubled their efforts to piss them off. i saw one girl on a bunch of acid try to cut her's out of her arm. coercing someone to take a drug, especially one as personal as birth control, really fucks with someone's trust and decision making.
posted by nadawi at 9:10 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

No, no one can force anyone else to take birth control. It is a sticky wicket, legally, even for people judged to be incompetent for whatever reason.

Is there a Florence Crittendon home/hospital/agency nearby? Typically, they run homes for pregnant and parenting teen girls. Your parents do not have to allow you niece to live with them. If she does get pregnant, they can make arrangements.

Bottom line: Pregnancy is her choice. Who your parents allow to live in their home is theirs.
posted by Leta at 9:41 PM on September 16, 2010

So the question is what, if anything, can be done to keep her on birth control?

Convince her (or find someone who can convince her) that she doesn't really want a baby right now, that's what.

Trying to find a legal way to force medication on her or trying to prosecute her boyfriend on a technicality is extremely aggressive and a recipe for incredibly justified rebellion.

Threatening to kick her out is a great way to make sure she gets herself good and knocked up, it's the classic "create someone who loves me unconditionally" scenario.

Your parents might also consider that your niece having a baby isn't actually the worst thing in the world. Not ideal, certainly. But there are worse things that can happen to rebellious, impulsive sixteen-year-olds.
posted by desuetude at 10:37 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a version of rtha's "16 and Pregnant" idea but I'd help her see what it's really like to care for a baby. Tell her that you/her parents don't think it's the best idea but if she's determined on it, you want her to be a good parent and are willing to help.
Ask if she'd be willing to take a parenting or baby CPR class. Have her babysit for people you know. Start out with small chunks of time and work up to overnight helper. See if a mom would let her be responsible for the baby on a grocery trip including schlepping the stroller, diaper bag and misc. baby stuff.
She might still want to have a baby but getting up all night with a real one, diapering and all the other real work that goes with one could help persuade her to wait a bit.
posted by stray thoughts at 2:47 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for (most of) your answers. They pretty much confirm what I thought, that even though my parents are responsible for her until she reaches 18, and a lot of the consequences of her getting pregnant would fall on them, her right to decide what she wants trumps everything else. We are and have been trying approaches along the lines of other things listed above, but trying to set limits on someone who will ditch school or sneak out in the middle of the night at the drop of a hat is pretty futile. The boyfriends parents are aware of what's going on and are talking with him, and the boyfriend does not want to become a teenage father, but I can imagine my niece either circumventing his efforts at preventing pregnancy or else finding someone else who will get her pregnant. Hopefully we can get her to have some real awareness of the consequences of her actions, although based on past history that's a bit of a crapshoot.
posted by doctord at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2010

Can she volunteer at a daycare while you or some other supportive family members talk about delaying her plans to have a child? She may get the human interaction she's craving and the attention and feeling of importance that being "in charge" of a kid brings through the volunteering and it could also build her self worth and self awareness to the point where she will be able to realize that it would not be best for her to have a child AT THIS TIME, but that she is a capable person and will be a good mother in some years.

Plus, she could get a job out of the whole deal which wouldn't hurt either.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:59 AM on September 17, 2010

I also don't think that having a real threat of being homeless if she gets pregnant is a bad thing. If she doesn't want to wear a kid-hat, there's no reason to treat her with kid-gloves.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:03 AM on September 17, 2010

Think about that. Is the best thing for this mother and baby to be unanswered when they call home and need a safe place to stay? If you were her guardian, could you make the threat of that real?

This kind of attitude toward young women contributes to their high incidence of poverty and victimization.

Speaking of which, throw the numbers about poverty and young parenthood at her too.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2010

Like Ambrosia Voyeur said, bargaining. I would bribe the hell out of her. Since your parents don't need her drama, let alone the drama of her and a baby, I would offer her whatever her little heart desires that doesn't involve procreation. Cell phones, iPods, clothes, whatever, the cost of those has to be less than the cost ($$ and emotional) of raising a baby. They just have to get her to 18, then she can move out and do whatever harebrained thing she wants to do.
posted by crankylex at 4:56 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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