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February 29, 2016

This isn’t the setup for a bad joke. This is the law for a young woman in Nebraska.

You are 17, in high school, and learning you are pregnant. Your mom is abusive and your dad lives in another state. You turn to the people you trust – an aunt and a school counselor – and you decide to have an abortion.

You call a health center to make an appointment and are told that you either need to have your parent’s consent or get permission from a court. Instead of a doctor, you get a judge.

Nebraska’s law mandating the involvement of parents in minors’ pregnancy decisions isn’t new. Our state has required parental notification for nearly two decades and raised the standard to parental consent in 2011.

Parental involvement is ideal. In fact, the overwhelming majority of young women considering an abortion voluntarily talk to their parents. We should all want our daughters to come to us. But the reality is that for too many young women, doing so could be dangerous. While health experts like the American Medical Association have spoken out against mandating parental involvement, politicians in Nebraska and many other states have decided that they know better. For the time being, a young woman in Nebraska is stuck with either asking her parents or asking a judge.

Unfortunately, that’s just where it starts to get complicated for the young woman. A recent investigation we conducted showed that most counties were failing to take the simple step of making forms available in their office. Even worse, some courthouse staff were downright rude to our investigators.

“We don’t have anything here to give you,” replied one employee, directing our volunteer to a website. Other times our investigators were passed around to different employees – sometimes even waiting for the county attorney to get back to them.

We know that nearly a quarter of young women having an abortion without involving their parents fear abuse or getting kicked out of their homes. Nebraska law gives clear guidance to counties on their responsibilities for making sure young women know about their rights and the process for a judicial bypass.

The form to ask for a judicial bypass is available online along with instructions from the court. A young woman should have as many options as possible to obtain these forms, which is why the law mandates that they be in county courthouses.

Like we’ve done before, this week we are going to be telling the legislature not to play doctor. Join us in telling Nebraska lawmakers that decisions about abortion are best left up to a woman and her doctor.    

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