Categories: Legislation

Finding a reason—any reason—to waive the requirement that minor girls tell their parents about a decision to abort

By Dave Andrusko

Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D.

A friend passed along a story about abortion and parental notification that appeared in the “Daily Report” that, in many ways, has to be read, re-read, and re-re-read. And once you finish Alyson M. Palmer’s account of how a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals allowed a pregnant teenager to abort without notifying her parents, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that even when a juvenile court  judge says a girl must notify her parents, some layer of the judicial system will find a way to cut them out of the discussion.

In other words (as NRLC Director of State Legislation Mary Spaulding Balch, JD, put it) that “the judicial bypass contained in parental involvement laws is nothing more than a rubber stamp.”

The story admirably goes into enormous detail at Here is the crux of the case.

Georgia’s parental notification law is along the lines of many. The under-age adolescent must inform her parents unless the judge finds the minor “is mature enough and well enough informed to make the abortion decision in consultation with her physician”; or if notifying a parent or guardian “would not be in the best interests of the minor.” In this instance, the juvenile judge found she met neither criterion.

Palmer then quoted and paraphrased Judge Christopher McFadden who summarized the reasoning of the trial judge.

“The juvenile court judge who denied the waiver noted that the girl didn’t have a personal physician or gynecologist and hadn’t talked to a doctor other than the clinic doctor. Accordingly, he said he couldn’t find she was well-informed enough ‘in consultation with her own, independent physician’ to make her own decision, McFadden wrote.

“Observing the girl had been ‘quite calm and matter of fact’ in discussing her mother’s possible reaction to the pregnancy, the juvenile court judge found that the girl’s testimony regarding her parents was too speculative for him to conclude giving notice to the parents would not be in the girl’s best interests, McFadden wrote.”

The girl then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

What makes the case even more intriguing is the three judges each had  his or her own reason for overruling the juvenile court judge. For example, there was McFadden, who wrote the main opinion allowing the girl to have the abortion without notifying her parents.

“While expressing some discomfort with an appellate court making a factual call, McFadden nonetheless went ahead and decided the girl had met the requirements that she be mature and well informed, given evidence of her academic plans, calm demeanor, consultation with adults and awareness of the risks of abortion,” Palmer wrote.

However Balch was unpersuaded. “Judge McFadden says the girl told the juvenile judge that she had ‘spoken at length on the telephone with the clinic physician who would perform the abortion, including discussing the risks of the procedure,’ ’’Balch said. “It could have happened, but the odds that she actually talked to the abortionist at length about the abortion and possible risks are slim and none.”

But on the off-chance she had, Balch said, the juvenile court judge noted that the girl didn’t have a personal physician or gynecologist and hadn’t talked to a doctor other than the abortionist. “That’s why the trial judge quite properly concluded that he couldn’t find the girl was well-informed enough “in consultation with her own, independent physician” to make her own decision.

“This is just another indication that parents are perceived as the enemy, secret abortions are considered in a young teenager’s ‘best interest,’ leaving minor girls are left to fend for themselves,” Balch said.

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