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Pregnancy and Birth

Generally, a woman's decisions regarding her pregnancy and the birth of her child are solely within her control. She can decide to be under a physician's care, or not, during the pregnancy. She can give birth at home or in the hospital. In some instances, the woman can choose whether to have a vaginal birth or a caesarean section. In any case, her rights during pregnancy and birth are firmly established.

If I am not a minor, are there any legal requirements I must meet in order to have an abortion?

Yes. A majority of states have laws that, at a minimum, require counseling, receipt of reading materials and viewing a video before a doctor can perform the abortion. Additionally, twenty-six states require a mandatory delay of 24 hours or more after meeting with the doctor (and receiving counseling services if mandated) before an abortion will be performed.

SIDEBAR: Many of these laws are being challenged as unconstitutional.

Is the "abortion pill" available in the United States?

Yes. A "medication abortion" is available to women. A medication abortion is a procedure in which certain prescription medications are administered that end a pregnancy without the necessity of any invasive procedures (other than an injection in some cases.)

Are abortions in the second trimester illegal?

No. However, laws have been enacted in many states banning second trimester abortions unless the health of the mother is in danger.

Is a parent's consent always required in order for a minor to obtain an abortion?

No. However, nearly half the states have laws requiring parental consent. Nearly all of the remainder of the states require parental notification before the abortion can be performed.

SIDEBAR: Currently, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington do not require parental consent or notice before a minor undergoes an abortion.

Can the biological father stop a woman from obtaining an abortion?

No. A father has no legal rights in the abortion decision. The father cannot stop a woman from having an abortion nor force her to have one, even if they are married.

Can I be arrested for taking illegal drugs during a pregnancy?

Yes. Women who have substance abuse problems while pregnant have been arrested and convicted under child abuse laws for harming their unborn child. Additionally, you can always be arrested, pregnant or not, for possession of illegal drugs.

SIDEBAR: The charge typically arises after the child is born ill, disabled, or drug addicted, i.e., "abused." The prenatal drug habit is evidence that the mother knowingly caused injury to the child.

TIP: Some courts have overturned convictions because they interpreted child abuse laws to cover children and not a fetus. In other words, in these cases the court found that the term "child" as used in child abuse laws, does not mean an unborn child.

SIDEBAR: In jurisdictions that have ruled "child" also means "unborn child," the mother may be prosecuted for ingesting drugs during the pregnancy even though the child is born without side effects. The theory is that the mother caused the child injury, harm and pain, which constitute child abuse.

Am I required by law to take certain measure to ensure the health and safety of my unborn child?

No. There are no legal requirements that mothers-to-be must follow to protect and guarantee the health of an unborn child.

TIP: Even in states where mothers are prosecuted for abuse to unborn children, no requirements or duties are placed on the mother in caring for the unborn child's condition.

Can a hospital force me to undergo a caesarean section if the baby's life is in danger during labor?

No. Since an adult can refuse medical treatment, and the unborn child is still a part of the mother (not a separate person), only the mother's wishes should be considered. For instance, a Jehovah's Witness can refuse a blood transfusion, even if the chances are great that she and/or her unborn child could die.

TIP: Because these cases usually arise in emergency circumstances and the court is called in to rule within hours on a life or death situation, the judge may side with the hospital and order the treatment. Caesarean sections have been ordered and performed over the objection of the mother.

Can a mother be prosecuted for leaving her baby at the hospital entrance?

Yes; however, some states have passed laws that allow the woman to overcome the charge if the baby is less than 3 to 30 days old, depending on the state, and was taken to a designated safe place.

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