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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Column: Bodily rights don’t start on your 18th birthday

    Arizona is one of 38 states that require women under the age of 18 to secure approval from one or both parents in order to exercise their reproductive rights and obtain an abortion.

    “Parental notification needs to be notarized here in Arizona,” said Kelley Dupps, political engagement coordinator for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. “That means that a parent and a child need to go to a third party, explain the situation and sign a legal document. This process doesn’t work in a lot of families.”

    While it may seem reasonable to require parental permission for abortion, there are countless scenarios that would prevent a young woman from acquiring such authorization, including “an abuse situation, an incest situation or a situation involving a minor in the foster care system,” Dupps said. “Oftentimes, a young person may not be able to say, ‘I’m suffering abuse at home,’ because they know that the abusive parent will be arrested due to mandatory reporting laws.”

    The Supreme Court acknowledged this issue in 1979, ruling in Bellotti v. Baird that states requiring parental notification must also “provide an alternative procedure whereby authorization for the abortion can be obtained.” In other words, access to abortion is such a fundamental right that the Supreme Court has mandated that, while a state can highly encourage young women to consult with their family on their decision, it must create a route by which women can bypass their parent or guardian.

    In Arizona, as in most states, this “alternative procedure” means obtaining written consent from a judge. A minor who cannot get parental permission has the opportunity to appear in court, explain her circumstances and receive an “administrative bypass” so that a physician may perform an abortion.

    It seems ridiculous to imagine one would need legal approval in order to access a safe, legal medical procedure. Imagine needing permission from a court in order to renew a prescription for acne medication or to explain why one should be allowed to undergo knee surgery. In fact, conservatives who feared that such a system might emerge under the Affordable Care Act decried the “Obamacare death panels.” And yet, due to the existence of parental notification laws, the judicial bypass outlet constitutes the best option for minors in Arizona.

    Supporters of these laws often point out the young women in question are minors and therefore unable to make their own medical decisions. First of all, the Supreme Court has rejected this argument in Bellotti v. Baird. The right to an abortion has no more age limit than the right to free speech or the right against unlawful searches.

    Moreover, a 16-year-old woman who is pregnant will acquire legal responsibility for another minor the moment she gives birth. If she’s mature enough to raise a child on her own, which the law recognizes as being the case, certainly she should be able to make her own medical decision about whether to give birth in the first place.

    Still, Dupps is thankful the judicial bypass laws exist.

    “If you’re going to have a parental notification law, which we have in our state, the best alternative is to have a judicial outlet,” Dupps said. “Not having a parental notification law is obviously ideal, but judicial bypass is the best-case scenario, given the hand we’re dealt. Having judicial bypass allows people in challenging circumstances to exercise their rights.”

    In most instances of judicial bypass, the system works in favor of the woman seeking an abortion. 

    “Honestly, there are very few of these situations that actually happen,” Dupps said. “A lot of times, the judge just wants to make sure that the young woman understands the process [and] understands her decision. I don’t know the statistics, but I can’t think of a situation in which a judge would not grant administrative bypass.” 

    Yet even the judicial bypass system is imperfect. A recent Mother Jones article noted that a judge’s personal beliefs about abortion often influence the outcome of a bypass hearing. If a judge opposes abortion in all circumstances, they might arbitrarily deny administrative bypass. And appearing in court is itself a burden on a young woman who may have to take time off school or work and secure transportation, all without her parent or guardian knowing.

    Ultimately, it is fortunate the judicial bypass outlet exists in Arizona because it provides young women the opportunity to access abortion services to which they are legally entitled. But such an outlet should not be necessary at all — it is only a byproduct of restrictive parental notification laws. 

    Laws that limit access to legal abortion services suggest that “women aren’t able to be trusted with our own healthcare decisions,” Dupps said.  Such laws offer no medical benefit, but they perpetuate mistrust of women in our society by forcing women to place their own health in the hands of others.

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    Elizabeth Hannah is a neuroscience & cognitive science sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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