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Family with SBC ties sues school over daughter’s abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–A family with Southern Baptist ties has filed suit against a suburban Philadelphia school district and a guidance counselor because the parents say he arranged an out-of-state abortion for their 17-year-old daughter without their knowledge.
Howard and Marie Carter of Horsham, Pa., charged William Hickey counseled their daughter, who was new to the school in 1998, to obtain an abortion, provided her with no other options, kept the information from them and used school resources to arrange for the procedure. Hickey also ignored Stephanie Carter’s declaration abortion was against her Southern Baptist beliefs, said John Stepanovich, the lawyer for the parents.
The Carters were members of a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee before moving to Pennsylvania. He does not know if they are members of an SBC church now, said Stepanovich, senior regional counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. He also does not know what Tennessee church they were members of, Stepanovich said. An attempt by Baptist Press to contact the family was unsuccessful.
“Stephanie brought out to [Hickey] that, being Southern Baptist, abortion was against her religious beliefs,” Stepanovich told Focus on the Family Citizen Issues Alert. “But he ignored that and said to her, ‘One day you’re going to look back on this and laugh.’”
Stepanovich told BP, “It’s not only unconstitutional but it’s unconscionable for a guidance counselor to decide what is best for this young girl” without giving her other options and not letting her parents know.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen where a public school official has inserted himself so deeply into this decision that’s reserved to the family,” he told BP. “I’ve never seen this level of intrusion before.”
While her parents were in the process of moving to suburban Philadelphia, Stephanie remained in Tennessee and became pregnant by her boyfriend, Stepanovich said. She discovered her pregnancy after she moved and shared the information with Hickey. He “immediately quoted a price to her” for an abortion and obtained a brochure for an abortion clinic in Cherry Hill, N.J., the lawyer said. Hickey used a school phone to contact the boyfriend, cashed checks from the boyfriend through school funds and helped arrange for a driver to take her to the abortion clinic, Stepanovich said.
Pennsylvania law requires parental consent for a minor to undergo an abortion, but it allows a judge to grant a bypass of the requirement. Hickey did not provide any guidance for Stephanie Carter to seek a judicial bypass, Stepanovich said.
The second-trimester abortion occurred in May 1998, according to The Washington Times. Stephanie graduated in June of this year and recently started college, Stepanovich told The Times.
The Carters’ suit against Hickey and the Hatboro-Horsham School District was filed in a Philadelphia federal district court earlier this month, but no date has been set for its consideration, the lawyer said. The suit seeks a court injunction prohibiting school counselors from pregnancy or abortion counseling without parental consent and blocking referrals of students to medical facilities, according to The Times. It also requests damages for the family, The Times reported.
The incident also could become part of a policy battle in the nation’s capital. The House of Representatives adopted in June by a 270-159 vote a bill seeking to protect the rights of parents when their underage, pregnant daughters are considering abortion. The Child Custody Protection Act would make it a crime for an adult to transport a minor to another state for an abortion without the parents’ involvement when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent before such a procedure. A person violating the law could be fined and/or imprisoned for a maximum of a year. The legislation would permit parents to sue those who break the law.
The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
The White House has been opposed to the legislation. Last year, President Clinton signaled his opposition to the bill unless changes were made to exclude “close family members” — such as grandmothers, aunts and siblings — from liability.
In 1998, the House approved the measure, but it died in the Senate when supporters fell six votes short of the 60 needed to end delaying tactics employed by opponents near the close of the session.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is among the many pro-life organizations supporting the bill.
Twenty-five states have laws in effect requiring the notification or consent of at least one parent or guardian, or authorization by a judge, before a minor can have an abortion.
The issue was brought to the public’s attention largely by the 1995 case of a Pennsylvania eighth-grader who was secretly transported to New York for an abortion by the stepmother of the 18-year-old man who impregnated her.
Apparently, such efforts to keep parents from knowing of a daughter’s pregnancy and/or abortion take place with some frequency. Abortion rights lawyer Kathryn Kolbert of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy said in 1995 thousands of adults are helping minors travel from states with parental involvement laws to obtain abortions, according to an Associated Press article in The Philadelphia Inquirer.