When a pregnant 16-year-old in foster care asked a judge to allow her to obtain an abortion without parental consent, the judge was supposed to decide whether or not he felt that she was mature enough to make such a decision on her own. Instead, he chose to enforce his own set of personal beliefs upon the girl, in a situation that is far too likely to be repeated in states across the county.
Parental consent and notification laws have long been imposed in states as a way to force teens to speak with at least one parent before terminating a pregnancy. A law mandating this particular parent/child relationship is active in at least 34 states, with a few requiring consent from both parents. Many states’ consent laws include additional hurdles; For example, some states will only consider consent given by parents with valid photo IDs.
There is little doubt that the laws exist primarily in the hope that the restriction will preclude teens from obtaining abortions, especially considering that parental involvement laws don’t exist when it comes to teens giving birth. In fact, laws exist to prohibit parents from forcing their child into aborting a pregnancy or in any way coercing her to terminate. Numerous legal resources exist to protect a girl from just such a situation.
That the state often assumes that ending a pregnancy is not a decision that a girl can make without a parent’s input, but that giving birth is, has long been a double standard that has become sadly commonplace. But what happens when there is no parent able to offer consent for the procedure? That is one of the places where judicial bypass is supposed to step in, and in Nebraska, this is where the legal system failed.
Afraid she would be unable to convince her evangelical foster family to consent to an abortion, and worried that remaining pregnant would put her placement in jeopardy, a 16-year-old Nebraska girl turned to a judge, hoping to show that she was emotionally mature enough to decide whether or not she wanted to remain pregnant and give birth. Her reasons were not good enough for the judge, who, after making sure she was aware that, ”when you have the abortion it’s going to kill the child inside you,” decided that she had not proven herself mature enough to make the decision on her own.
There is little doubt that the judge had his own preconceived notions about whether abortion should ever be an option in any situation; The judge was a member of an anti-abortion group in Omaha in the 1980s, according to the Houston Chronicle. He also defended Operation Rescue members after clinic trespassing in the 1990s and a woman accused of stalking an abortion provider.
The judge quite clearly overstepped his bounds and tried to force the girl into continuing the pregnancy based on his own desire to end abortion than on her own best interests, a fact that is compounded by the revelation that the girl never really should have been forced to seek anyone’s consent in the first place, since she is officially a ward of the state.
In the end, although the girl’s lawyer rightly refused to say more about whether or not the girl was still pregnant, pointing to her right to privacy, a comment noting that one way to avoid parental consent laws is to go to a different state may mean that she did eventually obtain the abortion that she sought. Whether she did or not, the legal and emotional hoops she was forced to jump through, as well as the delays that could potentially have increased the invasive nature and expense of the abortion, are still a symbol of the lack of power a minor faces when it comes to making her own decisions about her physical body and future.
If the teen was able to go across state lines, that is an avenue that may not exist forever. Yearly, legislation is introduced at the Congressional level that attempts to levy fines and even jail sentences on those who might help a young girl obtain an abortion by getting her out of state. Even within states, more legislatures are introducing bills to make it impossible for a teen to re-petition the court if one judge turns them down, or go to a different county to find a judge less ideologically opposed to abortion in all cases.
As these sorts of rules pass, there will be many, many more cases like this one in Nebraska, and many more teens who could be forced to remain pregnant and give birth against their wills, simply because a judge has decided it is in their best interest never to allow an abortion.
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