Judges Critical of Indiana Law Notifying Parents of Teen Abortions

CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit had harsh words Friday for an Indiana law guaranteeing pre-procedure notification to the parents of underage teenagers who are seeking abortions.

“This seems designed to encourage interference with a girl’s constitutional right to an abortion,” U.S. Circuit Judge Illana Rovner said of the law.

Rovner and two other judges on the Chicago-based federal appeals court met today to hear an appeal by Indiana to resurrect Senate Enrolled Act 404.

The law was barred from taking effect in the summer, shortly after its passage, after a judge found it likely unconstitutional.

At Friday’s hearing, U.S. Circuit Judge David Hamilton pointed out the practical effects of having parents learn from a minor’s attorney that their daughter was on the way to an abortion clinic.

“That sounds downright dangerous,” Hamilton said.

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher downplayed the danger. “Parents have a right to know what’s happening to their children,” Fisher said.

Though the solicitor general emphasized the the potentially lasting medical or psychological effects of abortion procedures, Judge Rovner noted that only 96 percent of Indiana girls get an abortion without parental consent.

A law like Indiana’s thus could put the other 4 percent at greater risk of domestic abuse, she noted.

Judge Hamilton voiced particular concern for girls in foster care, who have a much higher rate of abortions.

Kenneth Falk, an attorney challenging the law for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, or PPINK, seized on the same point.

“Evidence shows that notice will lead to abuse – both physical and emotional,” Falk said. “Evidence shows women will be cast out of their homes.”

Indiana law already requires underage girls to obtain parental consent before they undergo abortions, but qualifying teens can get around this requirement through a process known as judicial bypass. Though this allows a minor to be found mature enough to make decisions about her health care without her parents’ consent, Senate Enrolled Act 404 bars the procedure from taking place without notifying the parents, either in person or via certified mail.

Falk noted that this process has issues as well. For girls reluctant to bypass parental consent through the courts, Falk said, it can be difficult to explain their traumatic family situation to a judge they have never met. Compounding this factor, Falk said the threat of parental notification will deter them from even trying.

The law “will force women to not attempt to try and obtain a bypass if there is a chance their parents will find out,” Falk said.

Judge Rovner asked Falk how his argument would change if the statute required parents be notified after completion of the procedure.

Falk responded that such a change would eliminate concerns about parental obstruction, but would still leave him concerned about the potential for abuse and the deterrent effect of any kind of parental notification.

Fisher’s argument focused on the continued interest parents have in their child’s “care, raising and upbringing.”

“Planned Parenthood cannot show this law will inevitably interfere with the abortion rights of minors,” Fisher added.

Of 17 states with parental-consent laws, Indiana is one of only two states that do not provide a notification exemption for girls deemed mature enough to have an abortion without parental consent.

U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Kanne rounded out Friday’s panel.

The Seventh Circuit is expected to issue a decision in the matter within three months.

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