Nearly three years after it took effect, a judge has blocked an Alabama law that put girls seeking abortion through a trial-like process in which they were defendants and their fetuses were represented by lawyers.
In 2014, a law passed in Alabama giving pregnant minors the option to obtain permission from the court if they were unwilling or unable to get parental consent for an abortion. The process, known as a judicial bypass, is intended to give minors an opportunity to obtain an abortion in states that would otherwise require parental consent. Instead, the 2014 law severely restricted these minor’s opportunities by requiring them to be put through a process similar to cross examination.
Judges were given the power to appoint lawyers to represent fetuses. Teens seeking abortions were put through state-sanctioned questioning to deem whether or not she was mature enough to make decision to end her pregnancy. And although the process was supposed to be confidential, the law allowed district attorneys representing fetuses to call on witnesses to help determine the maturity level of the minor on trial—including teachers, boyfriends, neighbors and even the girl’s parents.
The rulings often ran over a period of weeks, due to attempts by judges to delay the abortion process—meaning that often, even if a minor was granted a bypass, it would come too late for her to actually obtain an abortion.
The ACLU of Alabama immediately called the legislation unconstitutional. Representing the Alabama abortion clinic Reproductive Health Services, the organization filed a complaint alongside a motion for preliminary injunction to bar the law from imposing on the constitutional right to privacy of a minor, arguing that “bringing third parties into the bypass hearings necessarily defeats the minor’s confidentiality.”
The law leaves girls fighting for their autonomy—and puts their health and their futures at risk. One 12-year old girl subject to the trial-like proceeding under the law was 13 weeks pregnant when she first appeared in court. She has been raped by an adult relative. A district attorney appealed the judge’s decision allowing her to receive an abortion, delaying the process even further.
“This decision will prevent the recurrence of another situation like this,” ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Randall Marshall said about the victory, “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.”
Parental involvement in a minor’s decision about abortion is required by 37 states across the country, many of which offer the option of a judicial bypass if the parents are unwilling or unable to be involved. Alabama, however, was the only one giving courts the power to appoint a lawyer for a fetus.