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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. This 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.

Key Findings

50% of minors seeking bypass as an alternative to involving a parent in their decision were concerned about being forced to continue their pregnancy; 41% were concerned about losing financial or housing support; 26% had minimal or no relationship with a p
Minors who sought judicial bypass involved others in their decision-making, including partners, friends, other family, godparents, teachers, counselors and therapists.
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.
The average amount of time between minors’ first contact with the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project and their court hearing was 6.4 days.

​​​​​​Study Design 

Researchers obtained data on 150 participants from the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project (JBCP), a network of attorneys that provides free information and legal assistance for those pursuing judicial bypass throughout the state. All individuals represented by the JBCP in a judicial bypass proceeding in Illinois between January 27, 2017 and January 31, 2019 were eligible. Attorneys asked minors in person or via phone open-ended questions about their reasons for not wanting to notify an adult family member, individuals they talked to regarding their decision, and reasons for having an abortion, and coded their responses according to a list of pre-specified categories. They also recorded how many miles minors traveled to get to a courthouse for their bypass hearing and how many days it took to arrange and attend the 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; these data highlight the burdens introduced by forcing involvement on those who chose not to.

“It is unjust to require people to take a week to go through a judicial bypass court hearing once they have already expressed a clear decision with respect to the pregnancy, particularly since the judicial bypass process offers no clear benefits to young people.”

This publication, Reasons for and Logistical Burdens of Judicial Bypass for Abortion in Illinois, is available in the Journal of Adolescent Health.