Federal Judge Hears Arguments in Ala. Parental Involvement Case

March 20, 2015 — The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday argued in federal court that a judge should halt an Alabama parental involvement law (Act 2014-445) for minors seeking abortions, while the state argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out, the AP/Hartford Courant reports.

Details of the Law

Alabama requires parental consent before a minor can obtain an abortion (Chandler, AP/Hartford Courant, 3/19). The challenged law requires that the parents provide a minor's certified birth certificate in such cases.

The law also prohibits "hearsay" in a minor's testimony if she seeks judicial bypass from the parental consent requirement, meaning that a minor could not tell the judge that her parents threatened abuse. In addition, parents accused of abuse are permitted to attend the hearing. The law also allows a district attorney to be involved in the hearing, a judge to appoint an attorney to represent the "interests" of the fetus, and the attorney and the DA to subpoena witnesses for the hearing.

Lawsuit Background

In October 2014, ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery, Ala. The law's challengers argue that it creates significant barriers for minors who cannot safely obtain parental consent for an abortion because of parental abuse or neglect. In addition, the suit contends that the law goes beyond any other state's abortion restrictions for minors (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3/14).

ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction to block the measure.

Wednesday's Hearing

ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Susan Watson said the law "puts teens on trial to get a constitutionally protected procedure. It's adversarial." She added that a minor "loses her anonymity because the district attorney or guardian ad litem can call in witnesses and interrogate the child."

Meanwhile, the state asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker to dismiss the suit and argued that the law gives a judge options for obtaining information about the minor's level of maturity. Alabama Assistant Attorney General William Parker said the judicial bypass takes into account only two factors: whether the minor is mature enough to make her own abortion decision and whether it is in her best interest to have the procedure.

In addition, in a statement submitted by state lawyers, Montgomery County Deputy District Attorney Leon Hampton noted that his office had been involved in two bypass hearings since the law's enactment. He wrote that his involvement was limited and that he asked one question, which related to the teenager's plan for seeking medical care if she had an abortion. An attorney was not appointed for the fetus, and the bypass request was granted in both cases.

In response, Watson said she is "thrilled" the process worked in Montgomery County but said that was only one county.

"We don't know what other judges would do," she said, adding, "You might get a judge that is not friendly and [would] do a full-blown trial" (AP/Hartford Courant, 3/19).