ACLU: Parental consent law harms young people

A Michigan law that requires a young person to obtain parental consent to have an abortion threatens the health and safety of youth in the state and violates their human rights, according to a new report released recently by Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, and the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH).

The 36-page report, “In Harm’s Way: How Michigan’s Forced Parental Consent for Abortion Law Hurts Young People” examines the impact of a Michigan law that requires people under age 18 seeking an abortion either to obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian or get approval from a judge in a process known as “judicial bypass.”

The report found some young people fear that disclosing a pregnancy to a parent will result in physical or emotional abuse, being forced to move out of the home, being forced to continue the pregnancy against their will, or alienation from their families.

The alternative, judicial bypass, can be invasive, distressing, and even traumatizing for young people, the report found. Judges’ decisions can be highly subjective, and those with anti-abortion views can unduly block young people’s ability to get care.

Judicial bypass often delays care by a week or more, limiting patients’ already constrained and time-sensitive healthcare options.

The report is based on court data from 2007 through 2022, in-depth interviews with nearly two dozen Michigan experts, including judicial bypass attorneys, healthcare providers, and reproductive justice advocates, as well as analysis of state health department data, and other state records. Other report findings include:

About 700 young people (mostly ages 16 and 17) have abortions in Michigan each year, and more than 85 percent involve a parent in their abortion decision.

When a young person does not involve a parent, it is often rooted in concern for their safety and well-being. One healthcare provider said a client told her, “I can’t tell my parents because they will literally beat me, kick me out, and I’ll be on the street.”

Some young people do not have access to a parent or legal guardian due to a parent’s illness, death, or incarceration; challenges establishing or demonstrating legal guardianship; or other reasons.

State court data showed that each year about 100 young people — roughly 14 percent of those under 18 obtaining abortions in the state — go through the judicial bypass process.

Young people face logistical hurdles throughout the judicial bypass process, including finding an attorney, scheduling and attending hearings, taking time off school, and securing transportation to and from court.

Some attorneys said judges made stigmatizing comments or gave their clients demeaning lectures before granting their petitions. One attorney said a judge asked her client, “Are you aware that some people who have abortions regret it later in life?” Another attorney said a judge lectured his client about adoption as an alternative, citing couples who were unable to have children.

The time required for judicial bypass can leave young people ineligible for medication abortion, forcing them to have more expensive and invasive procedures.

The law compels some young people to involve unsupportive or abusive parents in their abortion decisions, even when  not in their best interests. One healthcare provider said she had treated multiple young people whose parents asked her to withhold pain medication during their abortion procedure.

“Forced parental consent not only violates a young person’s constitutional right to make decisions about their reproductive health, it needlessly delays care and harms pregnant young people,” said Merissa Kovach, political director at ACLU of Michigan.

The report concludes Michigan’s forced parental consent law undermines the safety, health, and dignity of young people seeking abortion care in Michigan, whether they obtain parental consent or go through judicial bypass, and regardless of whether their request for a judicial waiver is granted or denied.The report urges the immediate repeal of Michigan’s forced parental consent for abortion law to ensure people under 18 can access this health care without being forced to involve a parent, legal guardian, or judge.

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