Nebraska Court Rules: 16-Year-Old Too Immature For Abortion

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On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a teenage girl, who had petitioned the courts for the abortion she couldn't legally have without parental consent, wasn't allowed to have one because she was "not sufficiently mature" to make the decision. (No word on what the Supreme Court believes about the role of maturity in, you know, motherhood.) The unnamed 16-year-old, who had lived with religious foster parents since becoming emancipated from her abusive parents, didn't want to tell her orthodox foster mother and father about her decision — and the state of Nebraska, along with seven other states, requires girls 17 and younger to get parental or guardian consent before going ahead with an abortion.

The ruling has prompted ripples of fury across the nation, with critics pointing out that if a teenager is mature enough to know she shouldn't be a mother, and turns to the legal system to ensure that that doesn't happen, she's presumably mature enough for the courts of justice to respect and recognize her decision. 

Initially, a district judge in Nebraska had ruled that since the pregnant girl (referred to as Anonymous 5 in court documents) didn't have consent, she wasn't permitted to have an abortion. (The Raw Story also reports that said distinct judge once served on the board of an anti-abortion group.) 

According to court documents, Anonymous 5 was concerned that she didn't have the money to raise a child, and couldn't be “the right mom that I would like to be right now.” Nevertheless, unless she manages to successfully appeal the Supreme Court in time to legally have an abortion — the likelihood of which is very, very slim — she will become a mother in a few months, regardless.

Thirty-nine states require a legal minor to obtain some sort of involvement from a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion, though not all, like Nebraska, requite written consent. 

The teenager first announced her intent to get an abortion at the hearing to dissolve the parental rights of her abusive parents, and said later that she worried that her traditional foster family would end the placement if they found out she'd wanted, or had, an abortion. 

There is, however, a provision for the law requiring parental or guardian consent: if a teenager shows sufficient maturity, then she can be legally permitted to make her own decision regarding the abortion. The district judge, who by all accounts has an ideological opposition to abortion, asked the girl at her hearing if she was aware that: "When you have the abortion, it’s going to kill the child inside of you." She said she did. He ruled that she wasn't sufficiently immature, and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling 5-2.

Nebraska is known for the hard stance against abortion it's taken in recent years. In 2010, the state passed a groundbreaking law that banned abortion at 20 weeks, under the grounds that fetuses could feel pain. (Even though the doctors who provided the "evidence" for their claims have since pointed out that their findings don't apply in the case of fetal pain.) And Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has signed every anti-abortion law that has crossed his desk since he was elected eight years ago.

In 2010, a month after the 20-week bill went through, a Nebraska woman whose uterus was crushing her fetus of 22 weeks was told by doctors that the fetus would pass away by itself in the womb. Though she had planned for the child, doctors had also told her that giving birth put her at risk of an infection that could stop her from having any more children. She wanted her labor to be medically induced before there were any more risks to her own health and fertility. But because of the new law, doctors weren't allowed to — inducing the birth for a baby that wouldn't survive was considered the equivalent of an abortion. The woman had to wait 10 days for the fetus to pass away inside of her.

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