Abbey Marr is a Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at Advocates for Youth
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Alabama on behalf of one of its only abortion clinics to block a new parental involvement law that could put some young people on trial simply for seeking abortion care. Alabama’s restriction is one of the worst laws in a huge, nasty pile of laws passed by state legislatures to put obstacles in the way of people – particularly poor people, people of color, and young people – who are seeking abortions.
Parental involvement laws require that when people under eighteen seek abortion care, they notify or get consent from one or both parents first. Most young people seeking abortions do involve their parents, but there are a variety of reasons that is not always possible. In fact, one study found that thirty percent of pregnant teens who do not tell their parents about their abortions make that decision because they fear violence or being kicked out of their homes. Young people who are not threatened with abuse in their homes may be afraid to let their families down or uncomfortable involving their parents. Yet, under these laws in order to get around the parental involvement requirement a person has to file an petition to the court for a “judicial bypass” saying that the person is mature enough to make the decision to get an abortion – petitions judges can and do reject. Parental involvement laws delay access to abortion, endanger health and safety, and fundamentally disrespect young people’s ability to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld just such a law in the early 1990s, and 38 states have adopted them. Alabama has required people under 18 to get the signature of one parent or legal guardian since 1987.
This past year, however, Alabama passed a new law that is unimaginably worse. As the ACLU wrote in its brief to the court, the law “radically alters the judicial bypass process in a wholly unprecedented manner that goes well beyond any judicial bypass statute that has ever been upheld by a federal court.” Now, when a person under 18 petitions for a judicial bypass, the District Attorney is automatically notified, and the court may appoint an advocate for the fetus (Yes, you read that right!). Further, if the person’s parents know of the bypass proceeding already, the court must allow them to participate. The District Attorney, fetus, and parents may call any witnesses they want to testify against the person’s petition – including witnesses who may be the very reason the person has chosen to ask for a judicial bypass in the first place, such as an abusive partner or family member. With this law, Alabama is literally putting young people who need abortion care on trial.
It is best for young people who find themselves pregnant to be able to seek the advice of a trained medical professional rather than face the situation alone and afraid. Further, young people should have the same right to access the full range of reproductive and sexual health services that other people have. That right includes the ability to access reproductive and sexual health services confidentially and with dignity. It does not include being put on trial to get the services they need. The Alabama legislature seems to have forgotten this, but hopefully the courts have not.
This blog has been cross-posted on Advocates for Youth’s youth activist site amplifyyourvoice.org