Colorado law requires minors to notify their parents prior to having an abortion–or go through a judicial process that’s intended to protect them from the mental or physical abuse they might encounter if they notified their parents of their abortion decision.
But the mandated “judicial bypass,” intended to shield adolescents from the potential trauma of asking their parents for permission to end a pregnancy, actually requires humiliating, burdensome and unpredictable hurdles that can scar adolescents, according to a new study led by Kate Coleman-Minahan of the University of Colorado College of Nursing.
Coleman-Minahan, PhD, RN and other researchers investigated the judicial bypass experience of minors in Texas and found that it “functions as a form of punishment for adolescents.”
“Proponents of parental involvement and bypass laws claim they protect adolescents from alleged negative emotional consequences of abortion, yet our results suggest the bypass process itself causes emotional harm through unpredictability, humiliation and shame,” the study said.
According to Coleman-Minahan, the fact that this is happening in Texas means it’s probably happening in states with similar laws as well.
Many of the minors interviewed for the study, published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, had experienced abuse at home and feared for their safety if their told their parents they wanted an abortion, according to researchers.
A news release from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus stated:
Once they began the bypass process, they were confronted with more obstacles. Just arranging transportation to the courthouse was sometimes difficult. When they got inside, they faced an often unpredictable process. One young woman spoke of being intimidated by the criminal defendants sitting in the room. Judges, on occasion, would ask for a detailed sexual history which she had to explain within earshot of multiple court staff including a court reporter who records the hearing.
Each adolescent was issued a court-appointed guardian-ad-litem (GAL), ordered to act in her best interest. In four cases, the GAL appointed by the judge was a pastor or deacon at a church. One respondent recalled her GAL “telling me it’s never the right option to have an abortion.” This GAL also brought staff from an adoption agency to court with her, breaching the young woman’s anonymity and exposing her to more judgment, the study said.
The researchers found that several judges didn’t hide their personal disapproval of the adolescent’s decision to seek an abortion. Sometimes they denied the bypass request altogether.
“Some judges and GALs based their decision or treatment of adolescents on their own personal opinion of abortion,” Coleman-Minahan said. “Multiple participants cried during the interview when describing the hearing, saying they still think about it, even months later.”
The study co-authors include: Amanda Jean Stevenson, PhD, University of Colorado Boulder; Emily Obront LMSW, University of Texas at Austin; Susan Hays JD, Law Office of Susan Hays, P.C. Austin, Texas.