Nebraska Court Rules Teen Too Immature for an Abortion, Fine to Raise a Kid

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Oct. 7 2013 3:15 PM

Nebraska Court Rules Teen Too Immature for an Abortion, Fine to Raise a Kid

The Nebraska Supreme Court denied a 16-year-old foster child’s request for an abortion on Friday because she was "not sufficiently mature" to make the decision herself. So instead, this immature young woman who does not want a baby will become a mother. Everyone wins.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

The teenager, identified in the court ruling as Anonymous 5, showed evidence of mature reasoning at a confidential hearing. She worried that she didn’t have the financial resources to support a child or to be “the right mom that I would like to be right now.” Yet district judge Peter C. Bataillon, whom the Raw Story reports once served on the committee for an Omaha anti-abortion group, disagreed, and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling in a split vote of 5-2.    

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How does something like this happen? Nebraska is one of eight states that require girls 17 or younger to obtain written, notarized consent from a parent or guardian before undergoing an abortion. (As the Guttmacher Institute reports, 39 states insist on some form of parental involvement in the decision; the majority, though, don’t also require notarization.)

Since Anonymous 5 is a ward of the State Department of Health and Human Services—she actually requested the abortion at the confidential hearing dissolving the parental rights of her biological mother and father, who were physically abusive—she doesn’t have anyone to grant her consent. “She is in legal limbo—a quandary of the Legislature's making,” wrote Judge William Connolly in his Supreme Court minority opinion. 

Judge Bataillon claimed that the teenager’s new foster parents could function as her guardians (though defense attorney Catherine Mahern notes that the Nebraska Department of Health regulations suggest otherwise). Either way, at her hearing, the young woman said she did not want to involve her foster family because they held strong religious beliefs—she feared that if they found out about her pregnancy, she’d lose her placement.

The parental involvement proviso can be waived in court, but only under certain conditions. In Nebraska, those conditions stipulate that there be “clear and convincing evidence” that “the minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed” to choose an abortion. You can see where this is going: The teen’s lack of parents (and reluctance to involve new guardians who may or may not have the legal authority to grant consent) threw her at the mercy of a judge who objects to abortion on ideological grounds. After asking her whether she knew that “When you have the abortion, it’s going to kill the child inside of you,” Bataillon deemed the young woman insufficiently grown-up to terminate her pregnancy (but totally fine to give birth to and raise another human being).  

As Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute wrote me, “For a minor to navigate the legal process and an appeal shows that she has fully considered her options, her life circumstances and made her decision." So who’s the immature one?