Parental consent and notification laws are based on a sound policy judgment: in areas of life, young people need the guidance of their parents in making important decisions; that includes decisions regarding abortion.
To protect a young girl from an abusive parent, or if the girl displays maturity beyond her years, states have enacted laws that allow judges to grant bypass orders, which permit the girl to have an abortion without informing a parent or guardian.
It was recently reported that Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown, a rising star among Ohio Democrats who is seeking re-election this November, approved every request for a bypass of parental consent or notification during her first two years on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in the early 1990s. At the time, Brown stated: “My view of maturity is not someone else’s view of maturity.” Surely, it is fair to wonder if Brown appropriately exercised her oversight function.
And Franklin County is not the only jurisdiction where judges appear to have granted a rubber stamp to nearly all by-pass requests. A study indicated that in the first five years of Minnesota’s judicial bypass law, only nine bypass requests (out of 3,000) were denied. And in Massachusetts, there were only two such denials in the law’s first five years.
Americans United for Life has developed model legislation that aims to curb this excessive judicial leniency, which really amounts to a dereliction of duty, and to better inform pregnant teenagers of the gravity and risks of abortion. AUL’s “Parental Involvement Enhancement Act” requires a judge to have “clear and convincing evidence” that a pregnant minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide whether to have an abortion before a bypass order is granted. Such a standard – common in civil law – would ensure that a judge does not pre-judge these requests, but considers each on the merits of the individual case.
Additionally, the Act deters underhanded tactics like directing pregnant girls to bypass-friendly judges in different parts of a state. Under AUL’s legislation, the pregnant girl is assigned to a confidential hearing within a court in the county where she lives. Again, this merely ensures the judgment is based on the merits of the case, not on the pre-existing political opinions of a particular judge.
Fair, unbiased judging serves the interests of the young girl and of her parents.
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Fortunately, more states have sensed the urgency to ensure that young pregnant women are well-informed in their decision-making. This past November, for instance, Ohio enacted a robust parental consent law. This came only months after Nebraska adopted a strong parental consent law based on AUL model legislation.
Polling shows that 71% of Americans favor parental consent laws. Such laws – even with a judicial by-pass option – respect the role parents play in the upbringing of their children. However, judges should never be allowed to make a mockery of such laws. Doing so does not serve the interests of young girls who need parental guidance and may be being manipulated or coerced into seeking abortions by abusers, boyfriends’ parents, or others.
LifeNews Note: Michael Wester is an Americans United for Life Fellow.