MARY BETH SCHNEIDER: Pregnant, young and alone? Tough luck in Indiana

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The Indiana Senate last week voted to ensure that a 16- or 17-year-old girl who is pregnant and without the support of her parents suffers.


commentary-schneider-mary-bethThe Senate voted 25-24 against a bill that would have allowed those teens to seek prenatal care to ensure a healthy pregnancy, medical care during normal labor to receive pain-killing anesthesia, and postpartum care to ensure she remains healthy afterward. At 16, Indiana law considers a girl old enough to consent to sex, but not old enough until she is 18 to consent to medical care for its consequences.

Unless a senator who voted against the bill discovers their heart and calls for a new vote by Tuesday, the measure, Senate Bill 352, is likely dead.

The chief sponsor of the bill was Sen. Jean Leising, an Oldenburg Republican who is a nurse and was the author of Indiana’s 1995 anti-abortion bill requiring an 18-hour waiting period and that women be told of the risks and alternatives to abortion. She is, without doubt, pro-life in every sense of the word.

To Leising, her bill was just common sense.

“Don’t we want healthy babies and healthy moms?” Leising said in her futile final attempt to convince her colleagues to support the bill.

Indiana, after all, has a maternal mortality rate of twice the national average. This state has the seventh worst infant mortality rate in the nation. Those underage teens having babies? Twenty percent—and 30 percent in Marion County—have another baby during the next 18 months.

“We are doing a lousy job,” Leising said.

But the Senate said no.

In the Senate health committee which approved of the measure, the sole no vote came from Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, who argued that the bill was really about girls getting IUDs—a form of contraception—without their parents knowing.

You’d think parents of an already pregnant teen would be happy someone would be talking to her about birth control, which federal law allows a teen to get anyhow at any reproductive health clinic. But Leising took contraception out of her bill, so the arguments against it changed to parental rights.

In the Senate floor debate, Brown argued that this bill was about erasing parental involvement.

“This bill takes away the parents’ right to be the decision maker,” Brown said.

And, she added, no one was being denied care.

Tell that to the girl so alienated from her parents that she either can’t or won’t tell them she is pregnant, that she is at the emergency room in labor or just released with a newborn. Tell that to the girl whose parents know but don’t care enough to be there for her, or are simply unavailable. Tell that to the girl who, as the parent of a newborn, is the person by law making medical decisions for her baby but can’t make them for herself.

And, yes, that girl is being denied care.

As physicians told the Senate committee, they cannot give that girl a pain-killing epidural because she legally cannot give consent—no matter how many hours the pain drags on. They cannot proceed with a caesarean section that they can predict will be needed until she is hemorrhaging or her baby’s heart rate has dropped dangerously low and it becomes an emergency. They cannot even prescribe prenatal vitamins that are vital to preventing such devastating conditions in infants such as spina bifida.

Because, you see, childbirth is not an emergency.

“If it is a normal labor, under the law right now (physicians) can’t do anything but catch the baby,” Leising said in frustration after the bill failed to pass. “Think about that 16-year-old with an 18-hour labor in an emergency room with no parent, no guardian and nothing to ease those contractions.”

She questioned whether some people weren’t just punishing these girls for getting pregnant in the first place.

“There are some people who would say, ‘By gosh, if they are in hard labor they deserve it.’ They would say that’s their punishment,” Leising said. “I am not vindictive like that.”

Call it vindictive. Call it short sighted. Call it anything you want.

But don’t call that Senate vote pro-life.

Mary Beth Schneider is editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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