ACLU Applauds Appeals Court Decision Upholding Minors' Right to Confidential Abortions

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
August 24, 2001 12:00 am

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CINCINNATI–In a victory for both minors and doctors, a federal appeals court ruled today that a doctor cannot be punished for providing an abortion to a minor without parental consent when the minor had no confidential and expeditious alternative to obtaining that consent.

“With today’s decision, the court affirms once again that minors cannot be subjected to a blanket requirement of parental consent for an abortion if there is no real, working alternative for those who are unable to talk to their parents,” said Julie Sternberg, a Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project who argued the appeal as friend of the court.

The case revolved around a couple’s attempt to hold a Tennessee doctor and clinic liable for performing an abortion on their 17-year-old daughter without their consent.

At the time the abortion was performed, the ACLU had secured an injunction blocking enforcement of Tennessee’s parental consent requirement. That law made it a crime for a minor to obtain an abortion without parental consent, unless the minor had gotten a “judicial bypass” – a court order permitting the abortion without parental consent. Because of the injunction, Tennessee courts were not considering requests for a judicial bypass when the couple’s daughter sought her abortion.

The district court had dismissed the couple’s case, and today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed that decision. In a joint friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project and Planned Parenthood Federation of America argued that physicians cannot be required to obtain parental consent for all minors seeking abortions unless there is a confidential and expeditious judicial alternative available.

The appeals court agreed, holding that without a judicial alternative, a young woman’s right to obtain an abortion is unduly burdened “If there is no judicial bypass procedure in place, neither the minor nor her physician can legally be required to seek parental consent.” Thus, the court added, “to allow this litigation to go forward would be tantamount to fostering an unconstitutional regime.”

“The court has sent a clear message that doctors cannot be held liable for respecting their minor patients’ constitutional rights,” said Sternberg. “Any other result would not only infringe on young women’s fundamental rights but also intimidate doctors from providing needed reproductive health care services.”

The case is Blackard v. Memphis Area Medical Center (No. 00-5326). Attorneys in the case include Julie Sternberg, Louise Melling, and Jennifer Dalven from the national ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

The decision is available online at:

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