With a new school year comes new experiences, new choices, and new opportunities. One is the opportunity to make sure you and your friends have the information you need to help navigate the different decisions that may come up in your life. Some of the most important decisions you may face are around your reproductive and sexual health, and if you’re a young person in California, you have the rights and resources to get the health care you need.
Under California law, you have the right to birth control, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, prenatal care, abortion services, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STDs/STIs). You do not need permission from anyone, including your parents or guardians and your partner. It is your right to get these health services confidentially — the clinic or doctor cannot tell anyone why you were there — unless you say it’s okay. You also can leave school to access these services without getting permission from or telling your parents or guardians.
Here’s a breakdown of the most important things to know about your reproductive health as you start your new year:
Birth Control & Emergency Contraception
Birth control is legal in California for everyone, and no one has to know if you’re using it. Also, no one can force you to use birth control if you don’t want to. You have the right to make your own decisions about using birth control and keep it private.
If you plan to have sex and don’t want to get pregnant, you have choices. There are many different kinds of birth control, from condoms, to the pill, to an IUD. In California, you can get your birth control prescription and have it filled directly by a pharmacist, without going to see a doctor or clinician first. You can buy condoms without a prescription and without any age restriction.
If your condom broke or if you didn’t use any birth control during sex, emergency contraception, sometimes called the morning-after pill, Plan B or EC, can keep you from getting pregnant. Emergency contraception only works during the first five days after having unprotected sex — and the sooner you take it, the more likely it is to work. In California, you can buy most emergency contraception from a pharmacy without a prescription, no matter how old you are.
Pregnancy and Your Options
If you think you might be pregnant, it’s your right to get a confidential pregnancy test. If you are pregnant, you have options: you can stay pregnant and become a parent, place the baby for adoption, or end the pregnancy by having an abortion. If you need support in making a decision about your pregnancy, or are unsure of how to pay for care, there are resources that can help — no matter what your decision.
If you decide to become a parent
It’s your right to keep going to school while you’re pregnant and after your baby is born. It’s against the law for schools to treat you differently because you’re pregnant or a parent. You have the right to remain in the same school and participate in all school activities, physical education, school dances and graduate. Some schools have special programs for teen parents. But you do not have to change schools or classes just because you’re pregnant or parenting.
You also have the right to keep your pregnancy private. Your school cannot draw public attention or reveal your pregnancy without your permission. If you have a medical appointment during school hours, your school must let you go to your appointment and cannot notify your parents or try to get your parents’ permission. Likewise, if you or your child are sick, you can be excused from school. Just make sure to tell your school why you’re absent.
If you decide to place the baby for adoption
If you are pregnant and don’t want to have a child or have an abortion, you can place the baby for adoption. Adoption means giving up your legal rights as a parent, as well as your responsibilities. If you didn’t make adoption arrangements and you’re about to give birth, don’t panic. The law allows parents to drop off a newborn baby to a hospital or fire station up to three days after birth, without getting in trouble or having to give their names. To find out more, check out Adoption Connection or PACT.
If you decide to have an abortion
If you want to end your pregnancy, you have the right to get an abortion for any reason until approximately 6 months after you become pregnant. You don’t need anyone’s permission and the law protects your privacy. However, you deserve support from someone who cares about you, like a parent, counselor, or friend. In many parts of California there are abortion doulas, or volunteers, who can go with you to your appointment so you don’t have to go alone. If you need more information, visit Planned Parenthood or ACCESS.
It’s your right to get confidential testing and treatment for STIs and HIV. This means you can get tested for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, without getting permission from anyone if you are at least 12. You can also get treated and the clinic or doctor can’t tell your parents or guardians.
You have the right to get tested for STIs during school hours. Go to your school’s office and tell them that you have a confidential medical appointment. They have to let you go — no questions asked. For helpful language on what to say, check out Your Rights at School.
Paying for Sexual Health Services
Most private health insurance plans cover birth control, prenatal care, childbirth, maternity care, abortion care. They also cover STD/STI screening and testing, but they do not have to cover treatment. Check with your insurance provider to see if you are covered.
California also has free or low-cost programs that can help young people pay for this testing and treatment, if you need it. Family PACT is a state program that pays for many sexual and reproductive health services like pregnancy tests, birth control, STI testing and treatment, and counseling. The services are confidential, and you can get them regardless of your age or immigration status. Medi-Cal pays for pregnancy-related health care — including prenatal care, delivery, post-partum care and abortion — if your income is low.
Tell Your Friends
Let your friends know about their reproductive health rights, and help spread the word about all of the different resources available. Our Your Health, Your Rights site is available in both English and Spanish.
If you’re a young person in California, you have rights. If you believe any of your rights are being violated, call the ACLU of Southern California at 213-977-5253 or submit a complaint online.
Know your rights
As students head back to school, we want to make sure they are aware of their rights and know how to defend them. This week, we’re posting a series of blogs reminding students and parents of these important rights. Visit our My School My Rights page for more information.
Ruth Dawson is a reproductive justice staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.