Judges Deciding Who Will Be Mothers in Post-Roe World

As access to abortion dwindles across America, “parental involvement” laws now weigh even more heavily on teenagers who require court permission to end their pregnancies. 

Parental-involvement laws were some of the first abortion restrictions passed after the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. 

When the court ruled in June on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe, 36 states enforced these statutes.

The specifications of the laws vary from state to state. Some require minors to notify a parent; others require them to get the consent of one or both parents. Several require that they do both. 

For those minors who choose not to involve a parent, they must prove to a judge that they are mature and well-informed enough to make a decision about abortion. Or in some states, minors can prove that having an abortion is in their best interest.

For adults who support these laws, they see it as parents having responsibility for their children’s well-being, and therefore should be involved in ending a pregnancy. They argue that younger teenagers are not mature enough to make a well-thought-out choice. 

Critics point out that most teenagers involve their parents in their abortion decision regardless of state law. And furthermore, for those teenagers who live in homes with abusive, neglectful, or generally unsafe parents, these laws are especially concerning. 

The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have each noted that although a parent’s involvement is helpful in many cases, a mandate introduces the risk of violence or rejection for young people in unsupportive families. 

The laws also delay care for the teenagers. 

There are hundreds of thousands of minors in the United States who don’t live with their biological or adoptive parents, living either among relatives or within the foster care system.

The judicial-bypass procedure has been presented as a compromise, balancing the interests of teenagers and their parents. Almost every state that requires parental involvement includes the option for a minor to go before a judge instead. 

But now that some state judges politically and socially do not believe in abortion, decisions are being made within the political spectrum, rather than being shielded from politics. 

In states where clinics connect teenagers with experienced attorneys and where the court staff is trained, the process can go smoothly. In others, it’s a crapshoot.

Now that the federal protection for abortion rights has been obliterated, almost every state in the South and the Great Plains is expected to ban or severely limit abortion, denying access to both adults and minors. 

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