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PART IV: An In-Depth Look into Parental Consent/Notification Laws for Teen Abortions
Is Judicial Bypass a Realistic Option?
Every parental notification or consent law has a judicial bypass in place so that a minor has the option to circumvent her parents and plead her case to a judge in order to convey that she is mature enough to make the decision to terminate her pregnancy on her own.
Laws like these were also put in place to protect a minor that may be in a dangerous home where abuse or neglect is present. In addition to mandatory waiting periods, one major downside of the judicial bypass option is the amount of time it adds on to the minor's access to timely reproductive care.
Investigating the Process
One of the most interesting parts of the parental consent laws is the potential to receive pardon from a judge in order to bypass consent of custodial parents or provide notification to them when their child has planned to end her pregnancy. Whether disputing a speeding ticket or pleading for a restraining order, many Americans have felt the red tape of our bureaucratic systems.
When it comes to another sensitive issue involving a minor seeking to terminate her pregnancy, how effective is it for a minor to plead her case to a judge and prove that she is able to make this decision on her own and involve only the people she wishes to involve in that decision? How long does it take to actually have the opportunity to speak to a judge, let alone receive a pardon from him or her in order to bypass permission from parents/legal guardians?
Answering these questions involved some more intense investigation. It began with visiting state websites where parental consent laws are in place. Considering there are 34 states with parents consent laws, I choice to randomly select different states that with the harshest version of the law (that being parental consent as opposed to just parental notification) to get an idea of what it's like to go through the process of contacting someone at the state level to getting an appointment with a judge.
Law: One of the minor's parents must consent. Only a judge can excuse the minor from parental consent.
The website, though easy to navigate for other needs, did not have any direct link relating to a judge's pardon for having to get parental consent for terminating a pregnancy. I clicked on a variety of links such as the “Birth” under “Family & Records” but only found links related to adoption, breastfeeding, welfare assistance and more unrelated topics.
I finally found a link to the Court Assistance Office which did have an active link to the Rules of Family Law Procedure, however when I reviewed the PDF and did a “control find” for “parental consent,” and “abortion” these keywords were nowhere to be found in the 156-page document. I also took a glance at the current Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges. Of the nine judges listed, only one was female. How difficult would that be to be a girl under 18 pleading your case to reverse your pregnancy to a male judge?
I discovered a “contact us” link at the bottom of the page which brought me to a mailing address, phone number, fax number and email address. To test the helpfulness of these, I called to see if I could set up an appointment with a judge and also sent an email on May 20, 2014.
When I called the number posted, I received a voice recording with a prompt to dial another number or press certain numbers to reach various aspects in the court assistance department. I chose to call the number given, (208) 334-2210. This time, I got a person. She was extremely nice, helpful and non-judgmental about my inquiry and immediately transferred me to a man in legal counsel. He explained that the minor seeking to terminate her pregnancy would need to go onto the state website to download the form and submit it. He said that within 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) of receipt of the form based on the Idaho statue that a meeting would be set up with a judge.
The man helped me navigate to the correct form on the website which is as follows: Once I reached the form, we got disconnected and I wasn't able to ask him how I submit the form/petition. From here, go to Court Services, Court Assistance, Forms, Special Family Law Motions and Proceedings and then Judicial Consent to a Minor's Abortion. Here is a link to all the forms and instructions.
My guess is from here is that the minor would need to fax in this form or possibly scan it and email it in. On the list of forms, the fourth document from the top, in which you can click "download" to view it in word, lists instructions for the minor to follow.
The Law: Both parents must give permission. If the parents are divorced, only the parent with custody must give permission, however a judge can excuse the minor from consent.
The Sunflower State had a very different website, including live chat capabilities. At the very bottom of the website there is also a link called help center which directed me to a variety of contact information including phone numbers. But in general no clear links about forms or petitions relating to judicial consent for ending a pregnancy. Learning from my last investigation, I clicked on Government, then Judicial which brought me to the Kansas courts website and a whole new matrix of links. The tab at the top, Court Rules and Forms was no help with no forms to download relating to minors' reproductive rights although some forms came close to the topic, such as "Motion for Finding of Unfitness and Termination of Parental Rights or Appointment of Permanent Custodian"
On the left bottom side, I found an email address and phone number to the Office of Judicial Administration. I sent an email May 20, 2014 and called on May 21, 2014. Receiving an email response back on May 21, a woman responded mainly focused not being able to provide me with legal counseling even though I specifically asked for forms to file a petition for a judge's pardon to obtain an abortion. "Lisa" pointed me to two websites: Kansas Legal Services and Kansas Bar Association. I decided to search the site using "abortion" and found a link to the form which gives you a MS word document of the petition. The only problem is where do you go from here? I guess at this point, a pregnant teen would then have to either fax it, scan it and email it or contact their legal services or bar association and ask what to do next.
The Law: One of the minor's parents must give consent unless bypassed by a judge.
Arizona's state website was easier to navigate. In fact a simple Google search of “court form abortion Arizona” brought me directly to the Arizona courts' Self Service page in which the form link “Minor Abortion Without Parental Consent” was easy to spot under Self-Service Forms. This link led me to a variety of forms and instructions to download including forms for an appeal if the consent is not granted in the first round. The main issue with Arizona's process is mailing in the form which tacks on a few more days to finally getting an abortion considering the court would need to receive the petition in the mail and then schedule an appointment for the minor with a judge within 48 hours. If it's urgent (which it most likely would be) the minor may be better off hand-delivering it rather than mailing it. The instructions did not provide any 21st century options like scanning the documents and emailing them or at least a fax number to create a more seamless process.
The Law: One parent or grandparent that the minor has lived with for at least six months must give permission unless excused by a judge.
This time I also started with a Google search versus trying to navigate through the state websites. A search as follows, “North Carolina judicial form abortion” yielded a direct link to the form as the third result on Google.
Though it was very easy to find the forms, it was not clear how to submit them. There was an address and phone number on the courts page at the very bottom left side, but no email address or fax number that would lead to a more efficient avenue for expediting the process.
Concluding on a Judge's Pardon
Whether it was easy to contact a live person or not or find what I needed to find on the website, there is still one main concern. Between a waiting up to 48 hours to receive pardon from a judge to receive an abortion without parental consent or knowledge plus any waiting periods tied to undergoing the abortion itself begins to add up. In the states with the strictest laws, like South Dakota, a minor may have to wait as much as a week if she were to file her petition for judicial bypass on a Friday, wait over the weekend until Monday or Tuesday to speak to a judge, hopefully, get written consent, approach a clinic for an abortion and then wait another two days, finally able to undergo an abortion by the following Friday at the earliest. On top of that, it's a lot of school to miss.
This would be assuming no snags in this process such as not getting consent from a judge and having to file an appeal within five days. That minor would need to also coordinate with teachers to avoid missing homework or may have to delay her reproductive care by another day if she is writing an essay, working on a group project, employed outside of school and/or preparing for a test. If the minor is unable to drive yet, this may involve finding someone she trusts to get her to court, taking other forms of transit on her own or possibly walking all of which create more complications working with the schedules of others she involves in this process and of course, any severe weather changes.