ACLU Applauds Veto of Bill to Restrict Abortion Access in Puerto Rico

March 27, 2019 2:15 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the decision of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to veto Senate Bill 950. The House voted to override the veto, and the Senate is now considering the same. The bill, if enacted into law, would unconstitutionally restrict the reproductive rights of women in Puerto Rico, particularly young women, and deny them the ability to make important personal decisions for themselves.

“We are deeply concerned by the recent action of the House to override the Governor’s veto. We urge the Senate to follow the Governor’s lead and stand firm in support of women’s rights,” said Jessica Arons, ACLU senior advocacy and policy counsel for reproductive freedom. “Each of us, including young people, has a right to get the full range of reproductive health care we need. A young woman making a decision about pregnancy who doesn’t have a support system at home should still have access to abortion care from a quality provider without delay. No law can effectively force healthy communication between a parent and child; we must build that trust together.”

“Senate Bill 950 reflects a careless disregard for the rights of women and the federal constitution,” stated William Ramirez, chapter director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. “We commend Governor Rosselló for protecting the fundamental rights, dignity, and safety of all Puerto Ricans by vetoing this misguided measure and we remain committed to resisting any effort to roll back Puerto Rican women’s access to needed health care.”

Federal courts have routinely struck down laws requiring parental consent for abortion when they fail to establish an adequate judicial bypass procedure allowing minors to seek permission from a court instead of a parent. Senate Bill 950 suffers from several deficiencies on this front, thereby violating U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Every minor must have the opportunity to seek a bypass on the grounds that she is mature and well-informed enough to make the decision without parental consent or that an abortion is in her best interest. However, not only does the bill not require courts to consider either of those factors – it does not permit them to do so.

The bill fails to guarantee that a minor’s bypass is heard expeditiously. Indeed, under this bill, more than two weeks could elapse between when a young woman files her petition and when she gets a decision. That is too long a time to delay anyone’s abortion decision – while abortion is extremely safe, the risks and cost of the procedure increase with delay. As courts and leading medical organizations have recognized, preventing delay is even more critical in the case of adolescents, who often do not realize they are pregnant until later in pregnancy or face other delays in accessing care.

The bill’s emergency effective date would make compliance with the basic constitutional requirements of a bypass impossible. As a practical matter, there is simply no way that courts, advocates, and physicians can ensure that critical safeguards for protecting a minor’s safety are in place – including constitutionally-required guarantees of confidentiality – without adequate time to develop the appropriate policies and procedures. Numerous courts have blocked parental involvement laws in just this situation.

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