Monday, December 10, 2012

Pregnant at 15: Some legal issues relating to treatment


Jay is 18 years old, a recent graduate from high school. He has been developing feelings for Janice, who is 3 years younger than him. Finally he had the courage to ask her out on a date. Their personalities are very compatible and they got along very well, leading them to develop into a committed, romantic relationship.

Jay and Janice usually go out on movie dates and take long walks in the park. As the days went on, they got closer with each other emotionally and physically, holding hands and hugging. Both of them started to become very fond of each other. They began to kiss passionately and fiddled with each other under clothing. They felt sexually aroused, and got more comfortable with touching and continued whenever they had the chance to.

One day, Jay went over to Janice’s house when her parents were not home. They decided to watch a movie and got carried away when they started kissing passionately, and doing the usual things they did. Jay suggested that they try to have sex. Janice thought about it and asked if he had protection.  Jay convinced Janice that it would be okay if they didn’t have any because every friend he knows who has sex has no problems without a condom. Janice was then persuaded and they went up to her room and had sexual intercourse.

A month or so later, Janice felt unwell and was nauseated. Janice suddenly remembered that her period did not come during the first week of the month, which was odd. Jay and Janice started to worry and bought a pregnancy test in the drug store. The test was positive. Janice was pregnant.
Janice, only age 15, decided that she should tell her parents. Her parents were furious and upset. Her parents wondered if abortion for young teenagers may be risky and dangerous, but insist that she abort anyways because they didn’t want to take care of her baby.

Janice wants to give birth to her baby.  At the same time, she is angry at Jay about the condom issue.

Teenage sexual activity and pregnancy: What the Law Says:

Q1: Was the sexual activity between Janice (age 15) and her boyfriend Jay (age 18) legal?

A: Yes.  Janice was old enough to legally consent to sex with Jay.

When are you old enough to legally consent to sexual activity?

If you are…

·                     12 or 13, you can consent to sex, but only with someone less than two years older than you.

·                     14 or 15, you can consent to sex, but only with someone who isless than 5 years older than you. But, you CAN'T consent to sex with someone who is more than two years younger than you (or you could be charged).

·                     16 and older, you can consent to sex with anyone older than you. 

·                     In all of these cases, however, if you are under 18, you cannot legally consent to sex with someone who is in a position of trust or authority over you (like your teacher, swim coach, Pastor). That person could be charged with a criminal offence.

Q2: Can Janice go against her parents’ wishes and deliver the baby (instead of having an abortion)?

A: Yes. As long as Janice has the capacity to consent to medical treatment and understand her medical situation, she can make her own decisions around her pregnancy and the birth.

When are you old enough to make your own medical decisions?

In Ontario, your age does not determine your ability to make decisions about medical treatment. Instead, you can make your own decisions about your health care as long as you are considered capable by your doctor or health-care provider.  Being capable means that you can understand the information that you are given about treatment as well as the consequences of your decision (such as the risks and results of the treatment).  

Your doctor might consider you capable with respect to some treatments and decisions, but incapable with respect to others, depending on how complicated or risky those treatments are.  For example, the different treatments Janice can expect to hear about at the doctor’s office might range from a second pregnancy test to an ultrasound (a test to look at the fetus and see if it is developing healthily) to an abortion (a procedure to end the pregnancy).  All of these are treatments with different risks, so the doctor might decide that Janice is capable of making some of those decisions and not others. 

In Ontario, you are presumed to be capable of making medical decisions unless the doctor has a reason to believe that you are not capable.  Age can play a role in this decision, since the older you are, the more able you generally are to make independent decisions and understand the consequences of those decisions.  It’s always a good idea to ask the doctor before you discuss something with them, in order to make sure that the doctor will respect your rights and not tell your parents what you have said.

Since Janice is fifteen, the doctor will probably decide that Janice is capable of making most or all of her medical decisions.  Any decisions that Janice makes cannot be disclosed to her parents, unless Janice gives her express consent.  This means that the doctor must ask Janice before telling her parents about her health care information, decisions, and treatment, and Janice must tell the doctor that it is okay to tell.  Ideally, Janice would sign a “consent” form that states exactly what information the doctor may share, and who the doctor can share it with.

It is unlikely, but possible that her doctor may decide that Janice is incapable with respect to a certain treatment or medical decision.  For example, if Janice has a severe learning disability or a mental health condition that prevents her from being able to understand her medical issues and the treatment options, then the doctor may decide she is incapable.  In such a case, the doctor will then be able to disclose Janice’s medical information to someone called a “substitute decision-maker.”  Since Janice is under 16 and lives with her parents, this person would be one of her parents.  In this case, Janice will be able to discuss her situation with her parents, but they will be responsible for making her health-care decisions for issues where the doctor has decided Janice is incapable.

For more information about teen pregnancy, support, and health care options if you think you might be pregnant:

The June Callwood Centre is a multi-service centre for pregnant and parenting teens in Toronto.  Their website contains links to other resources (if you are planning to have a baby or make a decision about a pregnancy), as well as information about the resources they provide.

Rosalie Hall provides services for young women who are going to have a baby or who are new parents, including education, counseling and outreach, child care, among other programs.

Planned Parenthood Toronto provides health care and health services to youth, including on sexual and reproductive health issues, and they will provide information and pregnancy-related medical treatment, including pregnancy tests, counselling on pregnancy options, and referrals to services to help pregnant women make an informed decision regarding pregnancy.

The Ontario laws that determine who can make medical decisions and how medical information can be released are the Health Care Consent Act and the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

The scenario for this post was written by Ying Yi Lau, a volunteer member of the PLE Team.  The legal info was written by JFCY. 


  1. then why does CAS often take kids of young mothers?

  2. You are right. CAS does sometimes apprehend the children of young mothers. The above blog post was focused on medical decisions so we did not get into custody and child protection issues. For more legal information on those issues, please see our past blog post: