Abortion: Can't Tell Your Parents? How to Get Help

By teenwire
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"My parents will kill me." "No way can I have a baby." "I don't know where to turn." Sound familiar? If you're a pregnant teenager, probably so.

You might be considering abortion. But will your parents support your decision? Most teens find it helpful to have a parent involved in their decision about whether to have an abortion. While the initial conversation may be difficult, for most teens it is worth it.

Says Carol Roye, pediatric nurse practitioner and Professor of Nursing at Hunter College, most parents "of course aren't happy about the news, but ultimately, they care about their daughters and want to help." If you have a "somewhat decent relationship," your parents will probably come through.

However, Roye adds, "kids have to judge the nature of their [parental] relationship for themselves." If your parents are, or might become, abusive — or, like "Jane's" father, who was jailed on drug charges during her pregnancy, are undependable — you might have a good reason why you can't turn to a parent for support.

Can't Tell A Parent? Your Next Step
Minors in AK, CA, CT, HI, IL, MT, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, VT, WA, and the District of Columbia can obtain an abortion without telling their parents. But the other 36 states have laws whereby parents must either consent to, or be notified of, their daughter's abortion (or in some cases, both).

However, all states except Utah have a bypass procedure. This involves speaking to a judge, who will (ideally) grant you permission — a "judicial bypass" — to get an abortion without telling your parents. (Delaware, MD, ME, and WV also let certain health professionals excuse you from the parental involvement requirement without going through a judge, and CO, DE, IA, ME, NC, SC, VA, and WI allow minors' abortions if certain adult relatives are involved.) Get more information about your state's laws.

A judge?! Sounds scary, right? Don't worry - you can navigate the legal maze.

First Things First
Contact a health care professional. This is critical no matter where you live.

Not only will you receive vital medical care, a health care provider will review your options (abortion vs. childbirth, informing vs. not informing parents, etc.).

Contact a supportive organization.
If you want to get an abortion and you feel that you cannot tell a parent, don't panic - help is available. Your first step is to contact an abortion provider near you. To find a provider near you, contact Planned Parenthood at 1-800-230-PLAN, or find us online.

Your provider can tell you about the law in your state. If you need to go to court, they can help you find a lawyer (often for free); they know the local courts and judges; and they can help you "navigate the system." And most important, they can tell you what to expect.

Court(ing) Success: How the Judicial Bypass Works
Once you file the application, you will be assigned to see a judge. To protect your rights, the law requires that the hearing be scheduled quickly. The hearing is informal, with no jury or "opposing" lawyers. And it will be closed to the public, to protect your privacy.

The judge will consider two questions: one, do you have the "maturity and information" to make your decision? The judge might ask whether you

* have verified your pregnancy
* are under medical care
* understand your options and risks/benefits of completing vs. terminating a pregnancy

* understand the abortion procedure
* are doing well in school
* have home or work responsibilities
* have future plans that would conflict with motherhood

Two, even if you're not deemed mature, would the abortion be in your "best interests?" The judge might ask why you haven't informed your parents, and inquire whether

* physical/sexual/emotional abuse or neglect has occurred in your family

* abuse/neglect might occur if you tell your parents

* there are other reasons it might be better for your parents not to know about the abortion

Bypass proceedings are confidential, to protect your privacy. Some states allow teens to use a pseudonym or initials for the paperwork, and all records must remain sealed from the public. The law also guarantees "expedition," meaning the judge must make a decision quickly.

You Did It!
A judge who rules in your favor will give you written permission for an abortion. Of course, you can change your mind; the paper states you may have an abortion, not that you must.

If the judge denies your request, contact a supportive organization and get a lawyer if you haven't already. It is important to do this quickly, so your lawyer can file an appeal before the deadline.When you're contemplating abortion, navigating the legal system can feel like the last straw. But assistance is available. Don't bypass the help you need.