Fed­eral judge strikes Alabama abor­tion law

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - KIM CHAN­DLER

MONT­GOMERY, Ala. — A fed­eral judge struck down Alabama’s one-of-a-kind law that en­abled judges to put mi­nors seek­ing abor­tions through a trial-like pro­ceed­ing in which the fe­tus could get a lawyer and pros­e­cu­tors could ob­ject to the preg­nant girl’s wishes.

Alabama leg­is­la­tors in 2014 changed the state’s process for girls who can’t or won’t get their par­ents’ per­mis­sion for an abor­tion to ob­tain per­mis­sion from a court in­stead. The new law em­pow­ered the judge to ap­point a guardian ad litem “for the in­ter­ests of the un­born child” and in­vited the lo­cal district at­tor­ney to call wit­nesses and ques­tion the girl to de­ter­mine whether she’s ma­ture enough to de­cide.

U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Susan Russ Walker sided Fri­day with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Alabama, writ­ing that the law un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally and im­per­mis­si­bly im­poses “an un­due bur­den on a mi­nor in Alabama who seeks an abor­tion through a ju­di­cial by­pass,” and vi­o­lates the girl’s con­fi­den­tial­ity by po­ten­tially bring­ing other peo­ple from her life into the process.

Both the judge and the ACLU said they were aware of no other state with such a law.

Ev­ery state re­quir­ing parental con­sent for abor­tions in­volv­ing mi­nors must also have a “ju­di­cial by­pass” pro­ce­dure so that girls can get a judge’s ap­proval in a way that is ef­fec­tive, con­fi­den­tial, and ex­pe­di­tious, the ACLU said.

The state had ar­gued that the law was in­tended to al­low a “mean­ing­ful” in­quiry into the mi­nor’s ma­tu­rity and the process was still a “con­fi­den­tial, and ex­pe­di­tious op­tion for a teenager who seeks an abor­tion with­out parental con­sent.”

The civil-rights or­ga­ni­za­tion said it had the op­po­site ef­fect, by en­abling lawyers for the state or the fe­tus to sub­poena the mi­nor’s teacher, neigh­bor, rel­a­tive or boyfriend to tes­tify she’s too im­ma­ture to choose an abor­tion, or that con­tin­u­ing the preg­nancy would be in her best in­ter­est.

“The prob­lem with all that is, the very teens who find it nec­es­sary to seek ju­di­cial by­pass are of­ten vul­ner­a­ble and could be sub­ject to phys­i­cal and men­tal abuse if it be­came known they are preg­nant and seek­ing an abor­tion,” said Alabama ACLU’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Ran­dall Mar­shall.

The ACLU filed the law­suit in 2014 in fed­eral court in Mont­gomery on be­half of Re­pro­duc­tive Health Ser­vices, a Mont­gomery abor­tion clinic.

It is un­clear how many such pro­ceed­ings have hap­pened since the law was en­acted. Walker noted that a district at­tor­ney this sum­mer op­posed the abor­tion re­quest of a 12-year-old girl who had been raped by an adult rel­a­tive and said it was the first case she was aware of that was de­cided un­der the law. The girl was 13 weeks preg­nant and had just com­pleted fifth grade when she went be­fore a fam­ily court judge, ac­cord­ing to a court record. The judge ap­proved the abor­tion on June 27, and the district at­tor­ney ap­pealed the same day, ar­gu­ing that the girl was too im­ma­ture to make an in­formed de­ci­sion. The Alabama Court of Civil Ap­peals on July 12 ruled in fa­vor of the girl.

Walker noted in a foot­note of the rul­ing that, un­der the law, a girl seek­ing court per­mis­sion for an abor­tion in Alabama could face both a lawyer for the fe­tus and “the chief pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­ity of the county in which the mi­nor re­sides, em­pow­ered by the act to rep­re­sent the state’s pub­lic pol­icy to pro­tect un­born life, and backed by sub­stan­tial state re­sources.”

The state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

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