Deciding to have sex is an important decision that has real life consequences. Ideally, it is highly recommended to talk to a health professional to ensure you are fully aware of the risks of having sex, especially unprotected. If however you do fall pregnant as a result of consensual sex, there are a range of options to support young people that are dependent upon individual needs. Put very simply, this may include accepting to raise the child, having an abortion, or putting the child up for adoption. The rationale of any of these should only be determined with proper advice and counselling from a trusted person, preferably your regular General Practitioner (GP) if you have one.
Pregnancy is inevitably a confusing and scary time, particularly for a young person. As such, it is extremely important to always put your physical and emotional health at the fore at this early stage. Furthermore, it is important to remember that if you are underage, the person fathering the child has equal responsibility to the child you are carrying. Dependent on the circumstances, there may be instances where there is a presumption that the State will take ‘responsibility’ for the proper welfare and support of a newborn child, if the mother is deemed incapable (and probably too young) of caring for the offspring.
It is very important to remember that in Australia, in any State or Territory, free medical treatment is provided to all citizens and permanent residents through the ‘Medicare’ system. An important issue throughout the three trimesters (the 9 months divided by 3) of your pregnancy, is that you receive appropriate professional health care and support. If you do not feel comfortable talking to your parents or carer or a reliable friend when discovering you are pregnant, a health care professional at a public medical centre or a school counsellor if you are still at school, are trained to best explain all the options you have and the consequences of them.
If however you are under the age of 16, a doctor will need to make an independent assessment to determine whether you are of sufficient age and maturity to understand and consent to medical treatment, depending on the seriousness of treatment needed or wanted. Just as the broad circumstances of teenagers being pregnant differ in every case, a full understanding is crucial and the doctor must be satisfied that this understanding underpins any expression of consent by you to any treatment.
- If the doctor believes you are able to consent then the doctor may be able to see you again without informing your parents or carer. This means therefore that whatever (if any) treatment the doctor prescribes or discusses will be private and as such, cannot be told to anyone else including your parents or carer.
- If the doctor believes you are unable to consent, given you have demonstrated an inability to understand what is involved with medical treatment, then the doctor may involve your parents or legal carer.
NO Federal or State Law requires that you must inform your parents or legal carer about any medical advice or that you are pregnant. If you believe that your parents or carer will disapprove or be upset when they discover that you are pregnant, it may be best to call a children’s Helpline or talk to a health care professional or counsellor about your best course of action.
Because many people think that Abortion is readily the first option, it must be understood that in South Australia, abortions are only lawful in two specific circumstances. In both circumstances, you must have lived in South Australia for 2 months before the termination of the pregnancy.
- It is performed by a qualified doctor and, after examining you, the doctor and another believe that to continue the pregnancy would be a greater risk to your life, including your physical and mental health, and as such should terminate the pregnancy OR there is a substantial risk that if the pregnancy were not to be terminated, the child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities such that the child, if born, would be declared seriously handicapped.
- The second circumstance where an abortion is lawful is when it is performed by a doctor and the doctor holds the professional opinion that abortion is immediately necessary to save your life or to prevent ‘serious’ injury to either your physical or mental health.
An abortion however, cannot be performed where a child is capable of being born alive (unless it is necessary to stop the mother from dying). Generally this means that an abortion cannot occur after 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you are under the age of 16 years, then the same laws relating to seeing a doctor without your parents or legal carers’ permission apply. The doctor must be capable of assessing that you are mature enough to understand the procedure and what is involved with the procedure to be performed on you. However, if you are under the age of 14 years and the doctor still thinks you are able to consent, some medical facilities may still require you to have your parents or legal carers’ permission before they can undertake the procedure.
If you choose to have the baby but do not feel you are able (or want) to raise the child yourself, then adoption may be an option. ‘Adoption’ means that the child will legally and permanently become part of a new family, and the birth parents no longer have the legal rights over the child and thus cannot claim the child back. As such therefore, this means you will no longer be able to make decisions for the child or have responsibility over them. The adoption process involves mutual agreement between you and the father that the adoption of the child can occur. You will be provided with either individual or joint counselling prior to being able to agree to adoption. A request to not proceed with the adoption can be sent to the Child Protection Services department.
ATTENDING SCHOOL DURING AND AFTER PREGNANCY
The majority of public and private schools in South Australia cannot request that you leave or continue your studies from home, purely because you are pregnant or have had a baby. This would legally be classified as discrimination and would therefore be illegal. If however this does occur, you may contact the Department of Education and Child Development, the Equal Opportunity Tribunal or the Australian Human Rights Commission for advice.
However, some religious schools do not presently have to follow certain anti-discrimination laws and may therefore –
- Expel you on the basis of you being pregnant
- Request that you leave for the duration of the pregnancy
- Request that you study from home during the time you are pregnant
- Deny access to certain benefits that you would ordinarily receive if you were not pregnant; and/or
- Refuse your application for admission into the school on the basis you are pregnant.
THE PROCESS REQUIRED AFTER BIRTH OF BABY
Once you have given birth to the baby, you must register the birth at the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry within 60 days of the child’s birth. This registration must be done even if the baby was not born in a hospital. Generally, the hospital, doctor or midwife will give you the forms to fill out or you may have to register the birth online. The process of registration within the 60-day period is free, however if you apply for a Birth Certificate then you will need to pay a fee.