She’s 16 years old and a ward of the state. Earlier this year, her parents had their parental rights revoked by the State of Nebraska because they physically abused her. But now, she needs an abortion in a state with parental consent laws.
Legislative Bill 690 passed overwhelmingly in January 2011, changing Nebraska law from requiring parental notification for abortion to requiring parental consent for abortion. During the hearing in which her parents were stripped of their rights, the young girl in this story revealed that she was pregnant and asked for the requirement for parental consent to be waived so that she could obtain an abortion.
Why did she want an abortion? She says in her request: “I’m not financially able to support a child, or to be the kind of mom I’d want to be.”
The judicial bypass process – which would allow her to make her own decision regarding an abortion – requires a minor to prove to the court that she has maturity and sufficient soundness of judgment regarding her decisions.
If you ask me (or I’d think any rational human being), deciding that one is not ready to be a good parent sounds like very mature judgment. It sounds to me like this young girl knows exactly how challenging raising a child can be, she knows exactly what hardships both she and the child would endure, and she knows exactly what kind of life she could make for herself and her child were she forced to give birth. Instead, she tells the court that she’s planning to graduate high school, get a job, and support herself. Maybe she’ll want children one day. Maybe she won’t. But she knows she’s not ready now.
This past Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld a ruling by Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon that this minor lacked the judgment and maturity to make decisions about her own body.
In essence, a judge ruled that this 16-year-old girl was too immature to decide to have an abortion, but is mature enough to give birth to and raise a child.
Now, as it turns out, legally she didn’t need this waiver from the court, but that’s besides the point at this stage (Jessica Pieklo has a very in-depth and comprehensive look at the legal aspects of the case over at RHRealityCheck, if you’re so inclined.) The point is that the American government has decided to force this young girl to give birth to a child because a judge wanted to abuse his power and privilege by making decisions about a woman’s body for her.
Both parental consent and parental notification laws are causing drastic and dramatic harm to women across the country. While, as usual, anti-choice proponents of such bills claim that they just want to be helpful and support women’s safety and well-being, what they’re actually doing is ignoring facts so as to punish women.
Facts such as that having an abortion is 14 times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term. Facts such as that almost 50% of pregnant teens who have been abused in the past report being assaulted again while pregnant, often by a family member. Facts such as more than half of teen mothers never graduate from high school, and motherhood is the number one reason teenage girls drop out of school.
Sadly, for too many girls, informing their parents that they are pregnant is a frightening and potentially dangerous situation, often triggering violence, and sometimes resulting in their being kicked out of the house. In one particularly upsetting incident, a father discovered his daughter was pregnant, waited until she was sleeping, then took out his .30 caliber rifle and shot her to death. The cause of her pregnancy was – you guessed it – incest by her father.
Some states pretend to recognize this dilemma, which is why there are options for waiving parental notification or consent by judicial bypass. Of course, what one has to go through to get a court to waive such requirements is a traumatic and harrowing experience. And as we’ve seen, judicial bypass is no guarantee. Particularly when the judge you are up against appears to have served on the Metro Committee for Life, and feels it is appropriate to remind you that: “when you have the abortion, it’s going to kill the child inside of you.”
Currently in the U.S., 21 states require that at least one parent consent to a minor’s abortion. 13 states require prior notification of at least one parent. 5 states require both notification of and consent from a parent prior to a minor’s abortion.
The fact is that the purpose behind these laws is to prevent young women – those who are some of the most vulnerable – from being able to exercise their constitutionally-upheld right to terminate a pregnancy. And in too many places, it’s working.
What we’ve seen time and time again is that denying abortion access to women does not decrease the number of abortions. What it does is increase hardship for those women and raise the number of unsafe abortions that are performed. Minors who need abortions will access them any way they can – often in the cheapest and most dangerous ways. Many minors who are close to their 18th birthdays when they become pregnant try to just wait until they ‘age out’, increasing the number of late-tern abortions that are needed. After Texas enacted parental involvement laws for example, the proportion of second trimester abortions rose by 21% among minors. All this while anti-choice advocates across the country keep trying to roll back the number of weeks at which one can obtain an abortion.
We’re failing women in so many ways. From budget cutbacks that disproportionately affect women to outright efforts to deny us the right to control their lives, women at all stages of life are falling prey to the drastic policies undertaken by ideological zealots. In this heart-wrenching case, a 16 year old foster child, after suffering extensive abuse by her biological parents, will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term and then care for a raise a child. All because actors in the American judicial system did not want to grant her the right to make the responsible choice for herself and her body.
It’s time to recognize parental involvement laws for the manipulative vehicles they are and repeal these crushing restrictions to women’s constitutional rights.
Photo Credit: State of Nebraska, Judicial Branch