MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- On Friday, a federal judge ruled that an Alabama law restricting abortion services for minors was unconstitutional.
Under Alabama law, minors must have parental consent for an abortion but they can apply for judicial bypass if necessary. In 2014, the Alabama legislature amended the bypass law to allow additional parties, including the district attorney, to participate in the bypass hearing, to call witnesses to testify regarding the minor, and/or to appeal a judicial bypass decision, which can delay a final decision to the point where an abortion is no longer an option.
This ruling found the amendments to be unconstitutional and unenforceable. According to the court’s opinion, the Act “violates a pregnant minor’s long-established constitutional right to seek a judicial bypass to a state’s parental consent law without the participation of her parent, parents, or legal guardian as parties to the bypass proceeding, and her right to an anonymous judicial bypass hearing.”
“Today’s ruling is a victory for women, for young people, and for reproductive health in Alabama,” said Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “By undermining their confidentiality, this law put teenagers participating in the judicial bypass process in real danger.”
One example of the dangers facing minors because of this law came last week, with the story of a 12 year old victim who was raped and impregnated by an adult relative. Even though the initial trial court granted her an abortion without parental consent, the district attorney appealed the decision. The minor has since won the appeal to obtain an abortion but her ability to obtain an abortion was delayed by the involvement of the district attorney.
By allowing the district attorney and others to participate in judicial bypass proceedings, the judge found that the minor’s privacy rights had been violated. Thanks to this ruling, district attorneys will no longer be able to participate in the judicial bypass process or to appeal court decisions. Only the minor will have the right to obtain evidence, subpoena witnesses, present evidence, or appeal an adverse decision.
“Once the minor made her choice and the court initially granted her judicial bypass, it should have stopped there,” said ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Randall Marshall. “This decision will prevent the recurrence of another situation like this, where a person’s health was put at risk because of an outside party’s appeal. We are glad to see the court uphold the constitutional right for individuals to make their own healthcare choices in privacy and dignity.”
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