Ohio Judges Routinely Approve Abortions Without Parental Notification
by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
November 11, 2003
Columbus, OH (LifeNews.com) — A survey of juvenile court judges in Ohio shows startling evidence of pro-abortion bias in the juvenile court system.
The survey, which involved the state’s largest juvenile courts, indicated that nine times out of ten, a judge approves a teenager’s request to have an abortion without parental notification.
The survey also shows that abortion operations routinely "judge shop," steering girls to counties where they know the judges will permit abortions without informing parents.
"The fact that so many judges automatically conclude that it is in a minor’s ‘best interest’ to have an abortion without notifying her parents shows that they have no concept of how physically and emotionally harmful an abortion can be to a young woman," Mark Lally, legislative counsel for Ohio Right to Life, told LifeNews.com.
"Parents who are kept in the dark about their daughter’s abortion may underestimate the importance of signs of physical or emotional problems until it is too late. The recent death of a California teen after a secret RU-486 abortion emphasizes this. Her parents indicated that she complained of severe cramping and constipation for days, but they only learned of her abortion hours before her death," said Lally.
The legal procedure known as judicial bypass was approved by the state legislature in 1985 and was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. A majority of states in the U.S. with parental notification laws now have judicial bypass.
Under Ohio law, an abortion practitioner must notify a parent when a girl younger than 18 seeks an abortion. However, she can bypass the notification if she proves she’s mature enough to make the decision on her own, that notification is not in her best interest, or that she’s the victim of family abuse.
The survey was conducted by the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper, which made a public records request of juvenile courts. Requests for bypass orders are not reported to the Ohio Supreme Court, unlike many other court statistics.
The survey shows that, in the past three years, Ohio teenagers requested judicial bypass 515 times. Judges denied only 73 requests, making the approval rate a startling 86 percent.
Franklin County, where the state capital of Columbus is located, had the highest number of requests in each of the last three years. Some 185 teens applied, but only 13 were denied, resulting in an astounding 93 percent approval rate.
The situation is much better in Hamilton County, which has been called the cradle of the right to life movement.
The number of requests for judicial bypass is much smaller there, indicative of the area’s conservative politics. Since 2001, according to the Beacon Journal, there have only been two requests for judicial bypass in Hamilton County.
Statewide, some 6,375 abortions were performed in 2002 on women younger than 20, according to figures from the Ohio Department of Health. As many as 277 were performed on girls younger than age 15.
In an interview with the Beacon Journal, a juvenile court judge from the Akron area, Summit County Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio, said she feels "guilty" about approving bypass requests, but then added, "I guess I feel kind of sad. That’s a better word than guilt."
The newspaper describes the judge as a "devout Catholic." The Catholic Church, however, condemns abortion as the taking of an innocent human life.
"It’s really tough. I’m as Roman Catholic as you can get, and I follow the Church’s teaching," Teodosio told the newspaper. "But when these cases come before the court, I must follow the law. Whether I agree with (a girl’s decision) is another issue."
However, some would argue that judges like Teodosio are not exercising proper judicial discretion in granting parental bypass requests. If a judge grants such a request, chances are the girl will end up getting an abortion–and may even feel compelled to do so.
"I’d hate to think they believe that now the judge ordered it, they have to do it," Teodosio told the Beacon Journal.
In one denial for judicial bypass, Teodosio said that the 17-year-old "could not articulate what would occur during the procedure and was unaware of the medical risks."
Meanwhile, pro-life leaders have expressed dismay at the ease with which Ohio teenagers win judicial bypass.
"Tell me, why is it necessary to get parental notification for ear piercing or to get aspirins in school, but a girl can undergo a major operation like an abortion without telling anybody," Pat Conroy, president of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, said.
Ohio Right to Life’s Mark Lally adds that pro-life leaders have attempted to address the problems raised by judicial bypass.
"Ohio has tried to deal with part of the bypass problem in a parental consent law that was adopted in 1998, but which has not been enforced pending the outcome of a court challenge. That statute would prohibit filing a second application for bypass with a different judge after a first one was denied," Lally said.
Cincinnati pro-abortion attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein, who argued for the first "Jane Doe" to win an appeal and obtain a bypass order in 1991, said teenage girls routinely leave Cincinnati to obtain judicial bypass in a neighboring county.
Pro-life leaders, however, say the Hamilton County judges are, in fact, applying the correct legal standard, while judges who freely grant bypass requests are not.