Pa. high court to consider minors seeking abortion
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - January 30, 2011 (WPVI) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to consider the role judges play in deciding whether a minor can have an abortion.
The case started when a minor girl referred to as "Jane Doe" in court documents asked an Allegheny County judge for permission to have an abortion after she was unable to obtain consent from one of her parents, as is required by law. The judge denied her request and her appeal was rejected.
Attorneys representing the girl are now asking the state's highest court whether a lower court should have done more. They argue that the appeals court should have itself considered the girl's maturity and ability to consent to such a procedure rather than reviewing the legal process used by the county judge.
Details of the case, including the minor's age and whether she had a baby, have been sealed to protect her identity.
The (Allentown) Morning Call says the case is apparently the first in which the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal involving a judge's denial of a juvenile's request to have an abortion.
But given the state Abortion Control Act's requirement for sealed proceedings to protect the identities of girls and women seeking an abortion, it is unclear whether the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case or publish its opinion, the high court's prothonotary, Irene Bizzoso, told the paper.
Under the law, those 17 or younger can get permission from a judge to have an abortion when her parents refuse or are unavailable. Judges are instructed to consider whether the girl is mature and capable of understanding the procedure and its risks and whether it is in her best interest to have an abortion.
Jennifer Boulanger, executive director of the Allentown Women's Center, said she has never seen a judge deny a minor's permission to seek an abortion and finds it surprising that a court would do so.
"That court is taking that minor's life into its own hands," Boulanger said. "She is going to be the one raising that child. It's not only going to affect the minor, it's going to affect the minor's family and it is going to affect the child that she has."
Groups opposed to abortion, however, say the law is intended to make judges more than a rubber stamp. Randall Wenger of Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation said granting exceptions to parental consent requirements with no real scrutiny would undermine the Legislature's goal of having parents involved in such decisions.
"We want the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to communicate to the trial judges that they have a level of discretion to be able to use their common sense and to be able to say 'no' in an appropriate circumstance," Wenger said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also argues that appeals court must ensure that lower court decisions are backed up by evidence when constitutional rights are at stake, especially since the law does not define when a minor is mature and capable of consenting to the procedure.
David S. Cohen, an associate professor at Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law, said the confidentiality requirement could be satisfied by identifying the girl only with initials or a pseudonym, as is the case during child abuse and custody cases.
He said, however, that because the issue is before the court for the first time, it is vital that lawyers and judges have access to the decision. And he said an independent review is crucial when constitutional rights are involved to ensure that a lone judge cannot apply his or her personal beliefs to the situation.
"It is important for the high courts, which have more judges reviewing the issues, to get beyond the biases that an individual judge might have about minors and sexuality," Cohen said.
Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com
pennsylvania, abortion, local/state
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