The Alabama Law Allowing Fetuses To Retain Lawyers Is No More


Last week, a federal judge in Alabama struck down the state's controversial abortion law that restricts minors' access to abortion services. According to the Associated Press, Alabama's law was unlike any other state in that a judge could appoint a lawyer for the minor's unborn fetus and invite the local district attorney to question the young girl, creating a trial-like scenario for the pregnant girl. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker on Friday reportedly rejected the law, which was passed in 2014.

In 2014, the law altered the process for a minor to obtain an abortion without parental consent, meaning a minor could request permission to obtain an abortion from the court, rather than her parents. In her decision, Walker found that the process instituted by the 2014 revision violates "a pregnant minor’s long-established constitutional right to seek a judicial bypass." The judge also found that "an undue burden exists," rendering the Alabama law inappropriate.

In ruling the way she did, Walker sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. Celebrating the judge's ruling, the ACLU of Alabama on Monday called the decision "a clear victory for women's rights, for reproductive rights, and for young people's rights." The victory was a long time coming, as the ACLU reportedly filed suit against the law back in 2014.

Under the now-rejected law, a minor seeking an abortion without her parents' approval could undergo a difficult court proceeding. In addition to the judge appointing the fetus a lawyer, the girl could also receive questioning from witnesses, including her teachers, boyfriend, or other close relations. The trial-like proceeding would seek to determine whether or not the girl was mature enough to decide to have an abortion.

Recently, the controversial law made headlines earlier in July, when a 12-year-old girl in Alabama sought an abortion after she was reportedly raped. The Alabama court ultimately allowed the girl to have an abortion, but protest over the case brought national attention to the state's unique process.

With Walker's decision last week, Alabama judges can no longer appoint representation for a minor's unborn fetus or subject a minor to the trial-like proceeding that would involve questioning her maturity. According to her ruling, Walker "located no other state" that uses a law like the Alabama one. The uniqueness of Alabama's law turned out to be a liability, as Walker also ruled that the law "clearly imposes an undue burden on the rights of the minor participants."