If you're a child, pregnant, and fear or can't find your parents in states like Florida, you can still get an abortion, but only by convincing a judge, by way of a grueling, kafkaesque, humiliating procedure.
In Alabama and Florida, judges can appoint attorneys to your fetus (you don't necessarily get an attorney unless you can afford one), and those attorneys get to grill you. Judges and attorneys tell children that God doesn't want them to have abortions. Judges deny petitions on the flimsiest of pretenses, to children whose parents have sworn to kill them if they become pregnant, to children whose parents are dead or imprisoned or missing in action, to children who've run away from meth-cooking parents who had tried to pimp them out.
The kids who get to see a judge are the lucky ones. Calling your local courthouse to get a hearing sometimes results in showers of abuse from anti-choice court clerks who hang up on you. Your day in court may come in the middle of the school day, in a county far from home.
In 2008, Florida Judge Raul Palomino Jr. urged a 17-year-old to think of how distressed her Catholic parents would be if they discovered her secret abortion. In a 2006 Florida case, a girl testified she wasn't financially or emotionally equipped to raise a child—a claim, the judge ruled, that proved she wasn't mature enough to choose abortion. Three judges denied petitions because becoming pregnant by accident indicated a young woman was too immature to choose abortion.
The records I reviewed show that if a judge doesn't want to grant a petition, she will find a reason to deny it. One 17-year-old in Alabama tried to satisfy the state's requirement that minors be well informed by asking six people—a woman who'd had an abortion, a family friend, two nurses, and staffers at Planned Parenthood and the local health department—about the procedure. In court, she described the procedure in detail, naming the surgical instruments used. When the judge asked the girl—a straight-A student bound for college on two scholarships—if she felt emotionally ready to have an abortion, she replied, "I am. I've been strong-minded about all of this."
The judge then denied her petition because she hadn't spoken to the doctor who would perform the procedure. (The girl said the doctor refused to talk to her; clinics often limit contact with minors before their bypass hearing.)
"I'm a mother," said the judge, who is not named in the court documents. "These people are interested in one thing, it appears to me, and that is getting this young lady's money…This is a beautiful young girl with a bright future, and she does not need to have a butcher get ahold of her." A divided appeals court upheld the judge's denial.
This Is How Judges Humiliate Pregnant Teens Who Want Abortions
[Molly Redden/Mother Jones]
(Image: Pete Ryan)