At Amplify Your Voice I have been hosting a 40 Days for Life Blogathon – to counter act the negative impact of the 40 Days for Life Campaign. Here is my post for day 31 of the campaign. You can see the original post here.
In politics, (this year in particular) access to abortion is a frequently mentioned topic. Young people and sexuality is also a common topic, manifested as debates on sex education (hello Wisconsin, yes I noticed you are using your special session on jobs to roll back sex education). While abortion and young people are often the main subjects of discussions on public policy and sex, rarely is access to abortion services for young people mentioned.
Only a small fraction of all abortions performed are among minors, 18% in the US to be exact. Regardless, access to abortion should be upheld for all women – even those under the age of 18. It is also important to keep in mind that 46% of US 9th through 12th grade students have ever had sex, yet many lack access to health information and contraceptives. Obviously lack of information, and services, combined with sexual activity could results in a need for access to abortion.
The main way abortion is limited to minors is through parental consent laws. 36 states require parental involvement in a minor’s access to abortion. Even though most states require parental consent, two Supreme Court decisions determined that there must be additional methods for minors to access abortion, if parental consent cannot be obtained. 35 states provide alternative methods for minors to access abortion. Exceptions to parental consent include circumstances of abuse, assault, neglect, incest or medical emergencies. Another process for minors to access abortion without parental consent is called a judicial bypass.
(Thank you Guttmacher for all these policy facts!)
Judicial bypass laws vary from state to state. In my home state of Ohio, a minor must obtain a court order from a judge, stating that she has enough information and is mature enough to make her own decision regarding abortion, or that the abortion is in her best interest.
I had the pleasure of sitting in on a radio interview of a woman who received a judicial bypass in Ohio when she was 17. Her story pointed out many of the problems with the judicial bypass system in our state. You can hear her full story here. Also, Voices and Choices, the radio show this interview was conducted on, is an amazing program, please listen to their other broadcasts and support them!
The women in the story had to travel to another city to meet with a judge about her judicial bypass, because the judge in her home town was known to be anti-choice. Also while trying to obtain her judicial bypass, she was given a manila envelope full of anti-choice literature, including misleading information about abortion and pregnancy. She was lucky to have a compassionate judge to meet with, and access to money and a car to drive out of town to meet with her.
This story points out that while the judicial system is supposed to be unbiased, still the beliefs of a judge about abortion will impact a minor’s ability to obtain a bypass. Also, there could be many instances in which the minor could be shamed, such as being provided misleading information about abortion. Finally, abortion is already stigmatized, and many women feel isolated through the experience of terminating a pregnancy. From hearing this story and others of friends, I feel that receiving a judicial bypass make the process even more isolating.
Her story also showed that it is difficult to obtain a judicial bypass. It takes time and money, something many young people do not have. When you hear real stories of women it is apparent the judicial bypass system is complex and definitely not just a rubber stamping process. This is not the view of current legislators in Ohio.
This month the Ohio General Assembly passed further restrictions to the judicial bypass process. One member of the Ohio House Committee tried to attach a comprehensive sexual health education amendment to that legislation. The legislator argued that if you are going to make it harder for young people to access abortion, the state should then provide the information and services necessary to prevent pregnancy and in turn abortion. I sat in the hearing room and watched the majority of members in the committee vote down the amendment.
This demonstrates the disconnection between state legislators, and the needs of young people in our state. Surely they never heard the emotional and touching story from the voices and choices broadcast. Surely they never talked to young women who sought a judicial bypass after suffering physical and or sexual abuse within her family. These women live in their communities, and depend on them to implement policies that protect their well-being, and these legislators are failing them.
The reasons why a minor would seek out an abortion are varied and many, just like when adults seek abortions. I wish all young women had a home environment where it would be safe for her to share her need for abortion with her parents, but this is not always the case. This is why it is important to remember to advocate for the rights of not just women, but young women, to access complete and comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion.