ACLU asks court to suspend Alabama law that puts minors seeking abortion on trial

Law also authorizes state to reveal pregnancies to others without permission

October 1, 2014 2:00 pm

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MONTGOMERY, Ala.—The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama today asked a federal court to block a new Alabama law that could force some minors seeking an abortion to stand trial. The law, which applies to minors who cannot safely obtain a parent's consent and are therefore seeking a judicial bypass of that requirement, goes far beyond any other parental consent law in the country.

For example, it allows the court to appoint a guardian for the minor's fetus and allow the district attorney and, in some instances, the minor's parents to cross-examine the minor. In addition, it takes the wholly unprecedented step of allowing any of these parties to disclose the minor's pregnancy to other people in the minor's life, including her teachers, her employers and her friends and to call them to testify in court.

"We all want our daughters to come to us if they get pregnant, and most do. But we all know that, unfortunately, some just can't," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. "Forcing a teen to go on trial to get an abortion doesn't make her any safer, and doesn't bring families together. It just puts her at risk and could lead her to seek an illegal, unsafe abortion. None of us want that."

In an ideal world, all teens would talk with their parents before having an abortion. And research shows that most teens do. But unfortunately some teens come from homes that are rife with abuse and severe neglect. For these teens in particular, creating even more barriers to abortion can be dangerous.

Alabama law prohibits minors from obtaining an abortion without the consent of a parent. But the Supreme Court has recognized that not all teens come from good homes. Because of that, the Court has said that states that have parental consent laws must provide a way for these teens to seek an abortion without parental consent through judicial bypass. The Court has held that this process must be both confidential and not unnecessarily long.

The judicial bypass already creates additional and somewhat daunting steps for a minor seeking an abortion. But Alabama's law goes beyond any other state's process judicial bypass by allowing the district attorney, the guardian appointed to represent the fetus, or the teen's parents to call witness to testify against the teen. The teen's teacher, employer, pastor, boyfriend, neighbor, and friends could all be notified of her pregnancy and called to testify against her. Additionally, the law allows the district attorney, guardian or the minor's parents to file an appeal if the bypass is granted, potentially dragging out the process for so long that the teen can no longer get the abortion she needs.

At best, this law destroys the confidentially of any teen participating in the judicial bypass process. At its worst, this law will force a teen to resort to an illegal and unsafe abortion; to seek parental consent, even if it's not safe for her to do so; or to have a child against her will.

The ACLU and ACLU of Alabama have asked the court to suspend the law while the judge considers our request to declare the changes to the law unconstitutional. The plaintiff in this case is Reproductive Health Services.

More information on the case can be found here:

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