The war against abortion access in the U.S. has gained momentum in recent years, and the consistent fight to limit women's right to choose isn't going anywhere. But, an Alabama court decision offered reproductive rights advocates a big victory last week.
When girls under the age of 18 want to end a pregnancy, 21 states require that they get permission from at least one parent. And in 2014, Alabama lawmakers took the policy a step further, passing a law that allowed judges to take teenage girls to trial to decide if they could get an abortion or not. That law was struck down by a federal judge on Friday.
States that require parental consent for minors seeking abortions, including Alabama, allow girls to get permission from a judge in cases of abuse, a process meant to remain confidential. But Alabama legislators expanded on the law, allowing a judge to appoint a guardian for a pregnant minor's fetus and the local district attorney to question witnesses to help the court determine if the teen was mature enough to make the decision.
The main problem with questioning witnesses was that it resulted in people in the girl's life being told about her pregnancy, which defeats the purpose of going to a judge to bypass getting consent from a relative.
"Basically this law took a bad situation and made it far worse," Andrew Beck, an ACLU attorney on the case, told Refinery29. "By taking this law off the books, it ensures teens can get the healthcare they need without having to got to trial to get it."
It's believed to be the only law of its kind in the country, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker ruled that the law put an undue burden on minors utilizing the judicial bypass process and didn't protect their right to confidentiality.
A recent case involving a 12-year-old who was raped by a family member highlighted who the law impacted. A judge initially said the pre-teen could get an abortion without parental consent, but the district attorney appealed the ruling. An appeals court upheld the initial decision that she could get an abortion last month, but she had to wait to get the procedure while the decision was prolonged, according to the ACLU.
Considering Alabama bans abortion at 2o weeks unless there's a threat to the mother's life and requires mandatory counseling and a 48-hour waiting period, making teens wait while their case goes to trial could result in them missing the window of when its legal to end a pregnancy in the state.
"I am relieved to hear this law has been blocked, but we have more to do to secure justice and autonomy for young people — including young women of color — across the South," Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast, told Refinery29.
While this law was specific to Alabama, it represented the conservative effort to severely restrict abortion access nationwide. A Guttmacher Institute study found that 431 laws aimed at limiting access to abortion services were introduced in state legislatures in the first three months of 2017. And, a Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health study released this week showed that women's health suffers in states with the most abortion restrictions (Texas, for example, known for its limited abortion access, has higher maternal, infant, and teen mortality rates than the national benchmark).
The Alabama ruling sets the precedent that pro-choice advocates will fight unconstitutional restrictions, and courts won't uphold laws that place an undue burden on women and girls.
"That the law was overturned in Alabama shows that extreme measures politicians take to put up barriers to reproductive healthcare services shouldn’t be tolerated — and won’t be," Dr. Willie Parker, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health who performs abortions in Alabama, told Refinery29. "Our girls deserve it."