Eugene Cho

the tragedy of a 15 year old girl’s abortion

As I’ve shared in posts before – here and here – I believe emphatically that abortion is wrong and as Christians, we should graciously hold and believe in everything that upholds the sanctity of life – which includes protecting the lives of the unborn.

But how? The government should be involved but how does a government legislate and enforce such a value? And I agree with others that the church needs to be careful not to relinquish – blindly or in totality – our responsibilities to a mostly secular government. As I wrote earlier:

Rather than legislating it, I wonder how abortions can be reduced by speaking and appealing to the Heart and Soul of a person and to make all necessary provisions if a person decides to have that baby. In short, can we maintain choice but do all that we can to preserve and ensure the life of an unborn? This is where most of us fall short.

I find it incredibly frustrating and naive when Christians take a stance of being against abortion at all costs but are unwilling to yield to issues that have direct correlation to abortions: sex education in schools [starting in middle school], health care benefits for low income families and women, post birth care and benefits, usage of contraceptives, etc.

Having said that, I was reading an article online on the airplane en route to Seattle from Guatemala (research trip for One Day’s Wages) about a 15-year-old girl who ended up getting an abortion without her parent’s knowledge. She is a student at Ballard High School in Seattle (which is couple blocks from my home) and the school that my 6th grader will be attending in couple years.

It is true that Washington is one of seven states that give minors the right to act alone in deciding whether to have an abortion, [The other states are Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, & Washington, D.C.]. And yes, it is true that no laws were broken through this situation but the fact that

a life was terminated, a 15-year-old can have an abortion AND have one without the knowledge of her parents are incredibly tragic.

Abortion is normalized in our culture. Choice is celebrated and beautified. But take a step back and just soak in the tragedy of the story…

Here’s the story reported first via  KOMO News:

The mother of a Ballard High School student is fuming after the health center on campus helped facilitate her daughter’s abortion during school hours.

Worse yet, the mother, whom KOMO News has chosen to identify only as “Jill,” says the clinic kept the information “confidential.”

When she signed a consent form, Jill figured it meant her 15 year old could go to the Ballard Teen Health Center located inside the high school for an earache, a sports physical, even birth control, but not for help terminating a pregnancy.

“She took a pregnancy test at school at the teen health center,” she said. “Nowhere in this paperwork does it mention abortion or facilitating abortion.”

Jill says her daughter, a pro-life advocate, was given a pass, put in a taxi and sent off to have an abortion during school hours all without her family knowing.

“We had no idea this was being facilitated on campus,” said Jill. “They just told her that if she concealed it from her family, that it would be free of charge and no financial responsibility.”

The Seattle School District says it doesn’t run the health clinics at high schools. Swedish Medical Center runs the clinic at Ballard High and protects the students’ privacy.

T.J. Cosgrove of the King County Health Department, who administers the school-based programs for the health department, says it’s always best if parents are involved in their children’s health care, but don’t always have a say.

“At any age in the state of Washington, an individual can consent to a termination of pregnancy,” he said.

But Jill says she not only didn’t have a say in her daughter’s abortion, but also didn’t know about it.

“Makes me feel like my rights were completely stripped away.”

And a little more clarification from the Seattle Times:

County health officials say they will try to spell out more clearly the range of services available to minors after an incident in which a pregnant Ballard High student got an abortion, apparently without her mother’s knowledge, some time after visiting a school-based health-care center.

The consent form parents and guardians sign for children to use the county-administered health centers states, “Youth may independently access reproductive-health care at any age,” but it does not explicitly cite abortion.

“Not every individual is aware of what is included in ‘reproductive-health care,’ ” acknowledged T.J. Cosgrove of Public Health — Seattle & King County, which runs the centers for the school district. “We’re going to work constructively with our partners and experts in adolescent health to strategize the best ways to communicate that.”

The incident, first reported earlier this week by KOMO-TV, involved a 15-year-old girl referred by the health center to a medical facility, where the abortion was performed.

The referral was done in accordance with state law, which gives minors the right to receive reproductive services, including abortion, without consent from parents, guardians or the baby’s father.

“From a legal/procedural standpoint, it’s a nonissue,” said Seattle School District spokeswoman Teresa Wippel.

KOMO reported the girl’s mother was upset about not having been told of the situation, but that she had signed a consent form at some point allowing her daughter to use the health center.

Public Health — Seattle & King County operates 14 school-based health centers in Seattle — 10 at high schools, four at middle schools — and two sites in the Kent and Tukwila school districts.

Organizations such as Group Health Cooperative and Seattle Children’s hospital are contracted to run the clinics. Ballard High’s is operated by Swedish Medical Center.

Though procedure was followed, the incident generated outrage in some corners.

“What that school did was unconscionable,” read one posting on the Fox News Channel Web site.

Cosgrove said reproductive services, including termination of pregnancy, could have originated in any health-care setting, whether a pediatrician’s office or community clinic.

“It’s not unique to school-based health-care centers,” he said.

Washington is one of seven states that give minors the right to act alone in deciding whether to have an abortion. The other states are Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. Parental involvement is also not required in Washington, D.C.

Thirty-six states do require some form of parental involvement — notification and/or consent — though most make exceptions in cases of medical emergencies, abuse, neglect or incest.

Seven more passed parental-involvement laws but courts have enjoined them from enforcing those laws.

At King County’s school-based health centers, once a pregnancy is confirmed, center staffers discuss options with the girl.

Abortions are not provided at the health centers; rather, a girl who wants one is referred elsewhere, and clinic staff may help make the appointment.

“But that is no different than how it would be handled in any health-care setting,” Cosgrove said.

He said health-center staffers also remind students of the importance of health care and inclusion of a supportive network — family members, for instance.

Payment is handled either through a girl’s private health plan or through income-based public-health options available to individuals.

Follow-up care and counseling are part of routine care offered by health-care providers.

Cosgrove was dismayed by the furor this week over the issue, noting that reproductive care is just a small part of what the county offers to minors.

Reproductive services are part of the county’s strategy to prevent unplanned pregnancies and keep kids in school. Pregnancy is the No. 1 reason girls drop out of school, Cosgrove said.


photo credit: flickr

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30 Responses

  1. Calvin Chen says:

    Jill needs to restore her relationship with her daughter rather than blame the school or county.

  2. Andrea says:

    What is legal is legal. The question is why the school or it’s contracted employees are paying for taxis and allowing excused absenses without parental permission. Plus, it really should be referring abortion cases out. That isn’t the roll of the school or it’s employees.

  3. Andy M says:

    I’ve never understood why anyone thinks that the parents of a minor shouldn’t know what is going on with their child, especially with something as big as an abortion. Of course Kids would rather keep things secret than face the uncomfortable situation with their parents, but the fact that they don’t want to get into trouble or feel like they’ve disappointed their parents should not be any reason for schools, hospitals, doctors and such to help hide it from their parents. Kids need to learn that there are consequences for their actions.

    @Calvin, I totally agree, yet I can’t help but understand the parent’s feelings about this. They sign off on a health clinic for their child at school not knowing that it will secretly get an abortion for their child. I would be upset too. Even children whose parents are very attuned to their children’s lives will still try to hide something like that in order to avoid getting into trouble or disappointing the parents. And the school helping them hide it is overstepping their responsibilities by quite a bit.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      “I’ve never understood why anyone thinks that the parents of a minor shouldn’t know what is going on with their child, especially with something as big as an abortion…”

      Pro Life or Pro Choice – Parents need to be involved.

  4. The thing that troubles me is this:

    “They just told her that if she concealed it from her family, that it would be free of charge and no financial responsibility.”

    That ain’t right.

    The mom may have been doing all she could to be in a good relationship with her daughter, but those things are a two way street. At least she figured out something had happened, and at some point her daughter must have told her.

    Interpersonal relationships aren’t always that easy. Add the parent child dynamic, then put someone in between encouraging the child not to be honest with the parents and it turns into a mess.

  5. tom.fullmer says:

    I do not believe a 15yr is capable to independently make that kind of decision. I understand the rationale behind the law, in the case of incest or potential abandonment by the parents. However if that were the case it would be better to have the state or whoever prosecute the father of the baby or incase of abandonment the parents. If it isn’t incest the parent(s) or guardian(s) should be informed as well as potential counseling prior to any action taking place. I think the father, and his family, of the baby should be part of the process as well. (However I am sure statistically there is more child abandonment by males v. females). Ultimately I do believe it is the girls decision, although I think you need consent to get a tattoo if you are under 18.
    Maybe some of the groups that oppose abortions should create a fund to provide prenatal and postnatal care for these teenage moms to be with either the baby be given for adoption or ultimately be kept by the mom. Funded by donations and adoption fees instead of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade.

  6. Matt says:

    I remember there was also a story of a girl in ohio – i think (don’t have time to search for it right now), a few years ago of a teenage girl who ended up trying to do an illegal abortion because she needed parents authorization for abortion. and she didn’t want to confront her parents. she died from that, and the parents were blaming the system and saying it should be allowed to get abortion without parents approval, etc etc…

    whichever way the law goes… it starts at the home.

  7. Donna Mathwig says:

    I realize it’s a tiresome topic, and I know that not all parents are ‘safe’ for pregnant teens, but subversive action such as this is heinous. Teen girls deserve better. Schools should stick to education – not parenting. And, if I might note, since the system often fails at educating, why would they think they could step in as parents?

    My intent is not a political conversation – it’s a matter of justice for girls/yg women. Maybe the larger conversation is more about the urgent need for parents to be more involved in conversations about sexuality with their children – then, when these situations arise, parents will be the ones to whom they turn? And, for those whose parents are ‘absent’ either physically or emotionally, we all need to have a larger intentional presence for teens in our sphere of influence.

    Still, we need to respond from a place of embrace and no judgment – offering to listen, ask good questions, provide info as desired, give space for the wrestle, and maintain a caring, compassionate posture whatever the decision. There’s not a perfect system – not even close. All we can really do is attempt to be people who care, minus agenda – but be there, be present to the other in need of compassion.

    For the record, it has been both my joy and sorrow to listen to the stories and broken hearts of many young girls and women for the past sixteen years as the director of a pregnancy care center who has made significant foundational shifts in caring for others.

  8. Ken G. says:

    This is tragic on so many levels.

    I just wish I was smart enough to figure out a better solution in a pluralistic society where sanctity of life, sanctity of the unborn, freedom of choice, and even people’s desire to die in dignity can somehow be balanced in a workable solution.

    • Donna Mathwig says:

      Affording people respect by acknowledging that God has created us with the ability to make choices is a process we embrace – and I think acknowledges (honors?) the plurality. Bottom line is that we don’t get to make others’ choices, but we can offer compassion (‘to suffer with’) by sitting with, listening and being present to those wrestling with such decisions. Loving without agenda takes us away from the inherent polarization and judgment, and gives us an opportunity to have a voice in the process, offering answers to questions, resources and ongoing support, (in our case) well beyond the pregnancy. While we hold a sanctity of life position – as in we don’t refer for abortion – we choose to embrace a generous relationality, and love without regard to the decision she/they make.

      While any decisions about ending life may grieve the heart of God, and not be in a person’s best interest, I believe in the grace that is there.

  9. kh says:

    wouldn’t it also have been a tragedy to bring an unwanted child into the world whose mother and/or partner aren’t prepared/willing/able to care for?

    my 2 cents.

    @Donna: great thoughts.

    • Andy M says:

      That is when they should become wanted, by us. No child should ever be unwanted. There are people who would adopt, and there should be millions more willing to take up the responsibility of taking care of these babies and mothers.

      Abortion is the worst option, but it is the option that makes it easiest for people. It is the option of least responsibility. It is far easier to kill an unwanted baby in an abortion than for someone to step up and take care of he or she. I’m sure that we don’t want abortions to continue simply because it inconveniences us.

      No offense to Anne Lamott, and I don’t want to assume that this is the whole of her opinions on this subject, but from the video you linked her opinion on this seems based on the assumption that there is nobody who would be willing to take care of the baby. That is an opinion based on cynicism and despair. I would rather support and promote the hope and possibility that comes through adoption, than live in the despair that nothing else can work so abortion is acceptable.

      • kh says:

        Andy, agreed….there should be much better systems in place….but as of now, women are having to face the current system – in which a ton of the support that should be available to them, simply isn’t. Not to mention if they’re dealing with issues such as addiction, unemployment, homelessness, abuse, etc etc…

        I included Anne’s video because I think she brings a unique perspective to the conversation (not because I necessarily agree with everything she has to say on the topic).

        And unless we (individually) are willing to adopt that unborn child….we’re still leaving it up to others to ‘want’ it….right?

        All that to say, I think it’s really easy for us as Christians to say – from a distance – that abortion is flat-out wrong, without being willing to care for the children as if they were our own.

  10. Russ says:

    thank you for that eye opening post. I wonder how many health reform dollars will go to cover up abortions, again keeping parents in the dark

  11. Nourisha says:

    makes me wonder what kind of relationship she had with her daughter that her daughter would feel she couldn’t talk to her mom about what was going on. i hope that as a mother i keep the lines of communication open with my children that they always feel comfortable to talk to me no matter what it is. can’t imagine how it’s legal for a girl to have a major medical procedure like that take place without parental notification but you can’t even administer tylenol without a parent’s note. seems off balance to me. i know abortion is a complex thing that can’t really be boiled down to prolife and prochoice catch phrases but it would be nice to have honest discussion about all of the ramifications without the anger and violence that keeps the community separated on the topic. there were a lot of “lives” affected by this decision. there is a bigger picture to see.

  12. Jasen says:

    You’d be surprised how many people are willing to adopt unwanted children in this world – so no, I personally do not think an unwanted child is a tragedy. People are just unaware of how powerful redemption & hope can be in any child (wanted or unwanted). But then again whens the last time you’ve seen our country glorify the power of adoption rather than the power & “freedom” of abortion. It’s horrible enough that in this country it costs much less and is easier to abort a child than to adopt one. Somethings not right.

    And don’t get me wrong – I as well am horrified when I hear about self-induced abortions, but to widen the gateway for abortion isn’t a control mechanism for such actions, because in the end, someone still gets hurt & dies (the baby). I believe those willing to go as far to mutilate themselves for abortion are clouded by the power of “freedom”, which in my opinion will never outweigh the cost of regret, pain, & the stone cold fact that you murdered a child. It’s a clashing of worldviews – what are we are willing to glorify, freedom by death, or hope from life.

    my 2 cents.

  13. asdf says:

    I just wonder who broke the silence—who told the woman that her daughter had had an abortion?

  14. danderson says:


    thank you, thank you for your mention of adoption. People spend thousands of dollars on fertility treatments to get pregnant, meanwhile we have a million or so abortions happening each year. Kind of ironic. We went the international adoption route for various reasons, but we know a number of people who have adopted domestically, and many wait quite awhile especially for health babies.

  15. Sarah says:

    I really wish they would leave this poor girl alone…she needs support not hate. Support from everywhere, her family included. Can you imagine what she must feel? Besides, this happens on a daily basis. This is one story of 1000s across America. Pray and hope for healing of her heart.

  16. Sally K says:

    Here’s what I don’t get about this:

    I’m a doctor. If I see a minor patient, unless it is a life-threatening emergency, I cannot even give the child a tylenol without the permission of a parent. Yet a kid can go have an abortion without a parent’s permission. Hunhhhhh??? Where’s the logic?

  17. Steve says:

    1)abortion is one of the issues where the debate sadly starts after a ton of things have happened that needed confrontation. For instance, I wish there was a study that showed how many young women who seek abortion had experienced abuse ( not necessarily the act that created the fetus.

    2) You are in Guatemala? Llamame, por favor!

  18. Deborah Zeruiah says:

    I agree with the commenter who says that the mother should focus on repairing her relationship with her daughter rather than blaming school officials. From the article itself:

    “Jill says her daughter, a pro-life advocate, was given a pass, put in a taxi and sent off to have an abortion during school hours all without her family knowing.”

    She describes her daughter as a “pro-life advocate” and yet her daughter chose to terminate her own pregnancy. This suggests that there is so much more going on here than meets the eye. Obviously the daughter kept hidden from her mother many things, including the nature and depth of her true feelings regarding reproductive issues.

    As much as the mother feels betrayed by the school system, her daughter could have confided in her at any time what was happening (up to and including her taxi ride to the clinic), but she chose not to. That she didn’t confide in her mother should be more troubling to her than the schools actions, and I wonder about the dynamics of their relationship prior to this incident.

    • Andy M says:

      Completely agree, but the school still should not legally be able to provide this girl with the means for an abortion without at the very least, notifying the parents. By doing so, the school itself is promoting the keeping of secrets between children and parents, which is exactly what you agree is wrong about the situation.

      Even the best of kids have reasons that they feel they should hide things from their parents. That doesn’t mean that schools should help them hide those things. This situation is bigger than just the girl and her parents.

  19. aaron says:

    This is grieving. Schools are to teach children about responsibility for our actions not how to run from it. Abortion must stop in this country and we need to take a stand!

    i signed the Manhattan Declaration along with 400,000 others. join us to stop this terrible genocide.

  20. Megan says:

    I sadly found myself in the same position when I was 19. Im 29 now and never really dealt with it until about a year ago when I finally told my best friends including our pastors wife. I’ve done a lot of repenting, opening up and healing since then but it definitely crippled my walk up until that point. I feel so grateful for Gods forgiveness and the line “that saves a wretch like me” has never been more powerful to me than it has in the last few years. I would never blame anyone for the horrid decision I made but I definitely did not have a good support system, including my parents, at that point in my life. You definitely can’t close your eyes and expect anyone else to ever be a good decision maker for your child- including allowing them to visit a ‘clinic’ at their secular school. Anyone who isn’t walking with the Lord does not have your best interest in mind.

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

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on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
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