This is what it takes to get an abortion if you’re a minor and afraid to tell your parents


At Mother Jones, Molly Redden has a must-read piece on the judicial bypass process that thousands of teens navigate each year to get an abortion without telling their parents in the 37 states that have parental notification or consent laws. While the process is supposed to be simple, in practice, thanks to anti-choice efforts to make it stricter, it’s “a mammoth struggle.” The teens are at the mercy of whichever judge they happen to have to plead their case to, and as Redden’s review of more than 40 cases shows, judges often deny petitions based on their own personal opposition to abortion. 

In 2008, Florida Judge Raul Palomino Jr. urged a 17-year-old to think of how distressed her Catholic parents would be if they discovered her secret abortion. In a 2006 Florida case, a girl testified she wasn’t financially or emotionally equipped to raise a child—a claim, the judge ruled, that proved she wasn’t mature enough to choose abortion. Three judges denied petitions because becoming pregnant by accident indicated a young woman was too immature to choose abortion.

The records I reviewed show that if a judge doesn’t want to grant a petition, she will find a reason to deny it. One 17-year-old in Alabama tried to satisfy the state’s requirement that minors be well informed by asking six people—a woman who’d had an abortion, a family friend, two nurses, and staffers at Planned Parenthood and the local health department—about the procedure. In court, she described the procedure in detail, naming the surgical instruments used. When the judge asked the girl—a straight-A student bound for college on two scholarships—if she felt emotionally ready to have an abortion, she replied, “I am. I’ve been strong-minded about all of this.”

The judge then denied her petition because she hadn’t spoken to the doctor who would perform the procedure. (The girl said the doctor refused to talk to her; clinics often limit contact with minors before their bypass hearing.)

“I’m a mother,” said the judge, who is not named in the court documents. “These people are interested in one thing, it appears to me, and that is getting this young lady’s money…This is a beautiful young girl with a bright future, and she does not need to have a butcher get ahold of her.” A divided appeals court upheld the judge’s denial.

In a 2013 case that made headlines, a Nebraska court decided a 16-year-old in foster care was not mature—in part because she was “not self-sufficient.” The minor had raised her siblings when her parents weren’t around. The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.

In another case, an appeals court described the testimony of a young woman who petitioned an Alabama judge in 2000:

“Her father drinks to excess and becomes violent. Recently, she said, he slapped her and told her to ‘get out of the house’ after she had asked him to turn down the volume of the television because she was trying to do her homework…Her father had told her that if she ever came home pregnant he would kill her. She also stated that she did not believe he meant this literally, but that she believed he would whip her. She testified that her mother was also violent and had beaten her older sister until she bled.” The judge denied her petition.

This is cruel and outrageous.  As Jennifer Dalven of the American Civil Liberties Union says, “Imagine it: You’re 17 years old. You’re already struggling with this unplanned pregnancy. You may be afraid of your parents. And now you’re told, ‘Go to court’?” Read the rest of the piece here.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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