Judicial Bypass

Getting a judges permission to have an abortion without telling your parents can be complicated.  The process is slightly different in each state.  The first step is to contact the clinic where you will have your abortion and ask them for information about getting a “judicial bypass.”

Below are some more tips from the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia (www.womenslawproject.org).  Remember these tips are for teens in Pennsylvania.  Your state might be slightly different.  Start with calling a clinic that performs abortion.

Second, call a lawyer who will help you with the process. You have the right to a free lawyer appointed by the court to help you get the judge’s approval for your abortion.

Third, fill out the application form for permission for an abortion. The clinic or the court should provide you with the form. Once you have filed your form, you will have your hearing before the judge very quickly, within three business days at the latest.

Do I really need a lawyer?

You do not have to use a lawyer, but you may have a better chance of getting judicial consent with a lawyer’s help. The lawyer will help you fill out and file the application forms and find the right office in the courthouse. Your lawyer will not judge you and will be on your side throughout the process. If you decide not to use a lawyer, please get a counselor at your clinic to help you.

Do I have to pay the lawyer or the judge?

Absolutely not. The hearing is free, and if you have [a lawyer] appointed for you by the court, the lawyer’s services are free. Of course, you are also permitted to hire your own lawyer for a fee.

What happens at the hearing with the judge?

The hearing is usually informal and is absolutely confidential. It is not a trial. In some counties, it is held in the judge’s office (called “chambers”), not in a courtroom. The judge usually wears a regular suit, and in many counties, the judge sits with you and your lawyer around a desk or table. There are no reporters, no jury, and no lawyer on the other side. The hearing typically lasts a short time. The judge will not know your name and might use your initials, first name, or a made-up name such as “Jane Doe,” or the judge might call you “petitioner.”

Who will be at the hearing?

The hearing is private. No one is allowed to attend except you, anyone you choose to bring with you, your lawyer, the judge, and possibly the judge’s clerk or secretary.

Is the judge allowed to tell my parents?

No. No one, including the judge, is allowed to tell anyone about your pregnancy. The initial application form may ask you for your initials and your parents’ names and addresses, but this information must be kept completely confidential.

What does the judge have to decide?

The judge must answer one question: Is this young woman mature enough to make her own decision? If the answer is yes, the judge must give you permission for the abortion regardless of how he or she feels about it. If the judge decides that you are not mature, the judge must then consider a second question: Would an abortion be in this young woman’s best interests? If the answer is yes, the judge must give you permission for the abortion regardless of his or her personal feelings.

What kinds of questions will I have to answer?

The judge may want to know that you understand the abortion procedure, that you have thought carefully about your decision, and that no one is forcing you to get an abortion. The judge may also want to know whether you have responsibilities at home, school, or work (such as babysitting, caring for sick relatives, part-time jobs, etc.) or plans for the future that show how mature you are.

How long will it take the judge to decide?

The judge may decide right after the hearing, but at the latest the judge must decide within three business days after you file your application. “Business days” do not include legal holidays and weekends. If the judge does not decide within three business days, you have the right to a free, confidential, speedy appeal to a higher court.

What should I do if the judge rules in my favor?

The judge will give you a piece of paper called an “Order”that gives you permission to get an abortion. You must take this Order with you when you go for the abortion, along with any other consent forms or identification required by your abortion provider.

What if I change my mind?

You are always free to change your mind and decide you do not want an abortion. The Order simply states that you may have the abortion if you want it; it does not force you to get one.

What can I do if the judge rules against me?

We know of only one case in seven years in which a Pennsylvania judge denied a bypass petition. Your lawyer can file an immediate appeal with the State Superior Court, which must decide within five business days. If you do not yet have a lawyer, you should get one now.

Is it legal for teenaged women to cross state lines to get an abortion?

Yes. However, if you are under 14 and if an adult takes you across Pennsylvania state lines for an abortion without your parent’s consent, the adult may risk a charge of interfering with the custody of a minor. Adults who are accompanying young women under 14 to out-of-state abortion providers should contact a lawyer.

Prepared by:
Women’s Law Project
125 South Ninth Street, Suite 300
Philadelphia, PA 19107