- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

NEW YORK These courthouse dramas invariably play out in secret. An anxious teen-ager explains how her life has been turned upside down. A judge then rules on the girl's request to have an abortion without her parents' knowledge.

The request is granted routinely in some states. In others, the girls are commonly rebuffed.

"There's a terrible sense of apprehension, a sense of powerlessness," said Shoshanna Ehrlich, a Boston-based law professor. "A sense that their lives were being given over to some stranger who had an amazing power over their future a sense of being violated."

No one on either side of America's unending abortion debate is enthusiastic about these confidential hearings. Yet, they are likely to become more frequent, not less, as more states pass laws requiring parental consent or notification before an unmarried girl under 18 may have an abortion.

There are now 31 states that enforce such laws, up from 18 in 1991. Ten other states have passed similar laws but are temporarily barred by a court or attorney general from enforcing them.

Under U.S. Supreme Court guidelines, states that adopt parental-involvement laws should provide an option for a girl to request a waiver. The result is the so-called judicial bypass a process so divisive that it sparked bitter infighting this year within the all-Republican ranks of the Texas Supreme Court.

Dealing with a new parental-notification law, the Texas court stunned pro-life groups in March by overruling a lower court and allowing a 17-year-old girl to have an abortion without telling her parents.

Justice Nathan Hecht, in an angry dissent, called the majority opinion an insult to legislators who favored parental involvement. Two justices retorted that Justice Hecht failed to set aside personal anti-abortion views "his passion overcomes reasoned discussion."

The Texas high court later ruled against two young women seeking waivers, and advocacy groups on both sides are now cautious in predicting how the law will be implemented. The state Republican Party, in its platform adopted in June, bluntly warned judges it would seek their defeat if they "nullify the Parental Notification Law by wantonly granting bypasses."

In the view of anti-abortion groups, the most wanton granting of bypasses takes place in Massachusetts, where girls routinely obtain waivers to a 20-year-old parental-consent law.

Abortion rights activists have organized a network of volunteer lawyers ready to represent pregnant girls on short notice. The network steers girls toward sympathetic judges and seeks to ensure that bypass hearings are held swiftly.

More than 15,000 Massachusetts girls have sought bypasses since 1981, and nearly all have succeeded, said Jamie Ann Sabino, the lawyer who set up the network. Usually, they only need to demonstrate they are mature enough to make their own decision.

"Look at what the young woman has gone through to get to that point," Miss Sabino said. "She's called a lawyer, she's figured out how to get out of school, she's willing to come in and tell a stranger the most intimate details of her life. Virtually all the young women who do that are mature."

In such states, a pregnant teen determined to avoid parental notice may have to choose either a trip to another state, an illegal abortion or a hearing before an unsympathetic judge. Federal legislation pending in the Senate would make it a crime for any adult to drive a pregnant teen across state lines to circumvent a parental-involvement law.

Nationwide, there are about 900,000 teen pregnancies a year, and roughly one-third of those are aborted. Most teens do tell their parents about an unwanted pregnancy, whether or not their state requires notification.

Anti-abortion activists believe parental-involvement laws have helped reduce teen pregnancies and are valuable even in states like Massachusetts.

"Just the fact that some adult other than the abortion clinic staff has to be involved tends to put a bit of a check into the system," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Joseph Graham, president of the Texas Right to Life Committee, said the state's new notification law seeks to prevent pregnant teens from "judge-shopping" to maximize chances for a bypass.

"We're addressing the problem of these girls, 14, 15, 16, going to abortion clinics for an activity that leaves all kinds of emotional and physical scars," he said. "We wanted to bring in at least one parent, to give them an opportunity to play a role in the girl's decision."

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