The judicial bypass process delays abortion for adolescents

In 37 states, young people ages 17 and under who need an abortion must involve one or both parents in their decision. Minors in these states who cannot involve a parent have an alternative – to seek judicial bypass from a judge. A new ANSIRH study reviewed the judicial bypass process in Illinois and found that even in a state with a well-organized network of attorneys supporting young people through the process, judicial bypass delays youth by one week and requires traveling long distances.

After reviewing data obtained from the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project (JBCP) from 150 participants seeking judicial bypass in Illinois, researchers found that half of minors seeking bypass as an alternative to involving a parent in their decision were concerned about being forced to continue their pregnancy. Just under half were concerned about losing financial or housing support and a little under a third had minimal or no relationship with a parent or described family circumstances that would make it difficult to involve a parent.

The researchers also found that minors most commonly sought abortions because they were concerned continuing the pregnancy would interfere with educational or other life goals and because they were not old enough or financially ready to be a parent.

Minors traveled an average of just under 50 miles round-trip to a courthouse for their hearing and had to wait an average of 6.4 days before their court hearing. The delays imposed on minors who obtain a bypass pushes them to obtain an abortion later in pregnancy, which can limit their treatment options, and increase the cost of care. And the 6.4-day average delay is a best-case scenario: Most states with parental involvement mandates do not have a formal judicial bypass coordination project like Illinois does. The time to arrange a hearing is likely much longer in such states, where minors may encounter court staff that are unaware of the option for bypass or who shame young people for seeking it.

Broad parental involvement laws that necessitate judicial bypasses do not reflect the complex realities of young people’s lives and family dynamics. The absence of a parent, the absence of a stable relationship with a parent, or the presence of other stressful life circumstances, can make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a young person to approach a parent in the context of an unwanted pregnancy. Also, young people are not making their decisions alone: they consult male partners, other adult and non-adult family members, and other adults in their lives from their schools or other settings.

Most young people voluntarily involve a parent in pregnancy decisions and this new research highlights the burdens introduced by forcing parental involvement on young people who chose not to.