ACLJ Challenges PA School District On Parents' Rights

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(Virginia Beach, VA) -- The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on behalf of a Pennsylvania couple who charge that a public school guidance counselor usurped their parental rights by coercing and facilitating an abortion for their minor daughter.

"This case is about parents' constitutional right to parent," said John Stepanovich, Senior Regional Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing the parents in the lawsuit. "A school official on the public payroll usurped the role of these parents and arranged a clandestine abortion for their 17 year old daughter. The actions of this school district violated the constitutional rights of the parents and undermined their parental authority by driving a government wedge into this family. What happened in this school district is not only unconstitutional, it is unconscionable."

The ACLJ filed suit today on behalf of Howard and Marie Carter of Hatboro, Pennsylvania. The suit contends that William Hickey, a guidance counselor at Hatboro-Horsham High School, coerced and assisted in the arrangement of a secret, out-of-state abortion for their daughter, who had just turned seventeen. She graduated from high school in June 1999.

The suit contends that Hickey repeatedly and consistently counseled a secret abortion as the only choice for the teenager, even though she admitted to being seriously troubled about the abortion plans because it violated her religious beliefs.

At the same time, the suit contends that Hickey: 1) was deeply involved in directing the teenager to schedule an abortion at a New Jersey abortion clinic to evade Pennsylvania law that requires a minor to obtain parental consent before such a procedure; 2) deliberately concealed from her parents that their daughter was in a crisis; 3) helped arrange the financing for the abortion; and 4) promised to provide false excuses to cover for the student's absence from school while the abortion was being performed. It also charges that Hickey indicated that he had "helped" other teenagers to obtain secret abortions in the past.

The lawsuit charges that the Carters' right to familial privacy, guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was violated by the defendants when Hickey "position[ed] himself as a government wedge between Plaintiffs and their minor daughter."

The complaint charges that Hickey "engaged in a course of conduct which was inherently coercive, was intended to and did exert undue influence upon [a minor], and ensured that she refrain from discussing with her parents her pregnancy and whether to obtain an abortion." It also states that the teenager was counseled by Hickey to obtain the secret abortion over a period of several weeks leading up to the abortion, which took place in May 1998.

The suit also contends that when the teenager told Hickey about her deep concerns and conflicts over having the abortion, Hickey told her not to worry about it, and offered such advice as "welcome to the adult world," "time heals everything" and "someday you'll look back on this and laugh".

The complaint states that when the parents confronted school officials, they told the parents the school supported Hickey's actions, and further stated that the school district has "deep pockets" when the parents raised the possibility of litigation.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Hatboro-Horsham School District and William Hickey. The suit requests a permanent injunction to prohibit school officials from providing abortion counseling and/or referring the family's minor children who attend school to any medical practitioner or medical facility without written parental consent.

The suit also requests unspecified compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the parents, who have suffered injuries as a result of Hickey's "extreme, outrageous, reckless and willful misconduct" and the school district's approval of such conduct.

ACLJ Affiliate attorney Joseph P. Stanton of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania is assisting the ACLJ as local counsel in this case.

The American Center for Law and Justice is an international public interest law firm and educational organization headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA that focuses on pro-family, pro-life, and pro-liberty issues.