Welcome to Judicial Bypass Week at If/When/How! We’re highlighting the excellent work of attorneys, advocates, academics, and youth around the country who are working to make mandatory parental involvement laws a thing of the past, ensuring that young people who can’t, or can’t safely, involve their parents in their abortion decisions are able to access the care they need swiftly and without shame or stigma.
Today, I’m a social worker and reproductive justice advocate dedicated to destigmatizing abortion, and making it more accessible. But when I was 17, nearly a decade ago, I was a teenager who needed an abortion and could not tell my parents — as required by law in conservative North Florida, where I lived. I was able to obtain an abortion by way of what’s known as the judicial bypass process, allowing a judge to act as a kind of parental proxy to consent to my care on my parents’ behalf. I’ve also had an abortion where I had a parent present, so I’ve seen how parental involvement in abortion care works from multiple sides.
My experience in obtaining the judicial bypass was filled with uncertainty, hope, fear, and many questions. Finding an attorney was my first obstacle, but once I was able to start the process, my uncertainty transformed into hope. After some personal reflection on my own experience and chatting with attorneys and advocates about the judicial bypass process, I’d like to offer are some best practices for judicial bypass helpers — everyone from lawyers to abortion providers and funders to clinic and court support staff.
If you’re an adult who helps young people through the judicial bypass process, I think this will help you be a more compassionate and more effective advocate.
Utilize a strengths-based approach.
When I talk about my judicial bypass experience, I’m most proud of the fact that I contributed evidence to help with my case. I had to prove that I would be in danger if I told my parents I needed an abortion, so I obtained police records from a child abuse case I brought against my father two years prior and 911 records showing calls coming to my home to show a pattern of violence at my home. My attorney made me feel empowered by including me in the legal process and making me feel like a member of the team.
In social work practice, the strengths-based perspective is a practical approach that emphasizes people’s self-determination and strengths, viewing clients as resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity. As judicial bypass helpers, we must work with our clients to determine what resources they bring to the table to assist with their case, and to identify the barriers keeping them from obtaining a judicial bypass.
For example, the client may not have access to a car, but state they are able to use public transportation to get to court by using a friend’s bus pass. This example shows the client’s deficit (lack of reliable transportation) as well as their resilience in using their problem solving-skills to take initiative and use a friend’s bus pass. Recognizing these moments can help build rapport and keep your client as an active participant in the case. Finding this information is critical to your case and can be done through a thorough intake process.
Create a thorough intake process.
Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” This rings true when we meet our clients to determine how we can best support them. Having a comprehensive intake process with clients is essential to determine the client’s psychosocial needs, as a person living in their environment. The psychosocial approach looks at individuals in the context of the combined influence that psychological factors and the surrounding social environment have on their physical and mental wellness.
In the social work profession, the intake that helps find this information is referred to as a Biopsychosocial assessment. There are many samples of these assessments available here, here and here. All of the questions on these examples may not be relevant for your case, especially any that require you to complete a psychological assessment. However, it could be time to have a look at your in-house intake/assessment forms to assure you are asking questions in a way that is intersectional and addressing the systems of oppression that are impacting the ability to live their lives. Below are some examples of questions that could be included on your intake:
- Do you identify with any gender? (cis, trans, non-binary, etc.)
- What are your pronouns? (she/her, he/him, they/them etc.)
- Have you ever been a victim of a crime?
- Are you in need of childcare for your appointments?
Create a safety plan.
Young people do not avoid parental involvement in their abortions unless it is absolutely necessary. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 90 percent of 14-year-olds and 74 percent of 15-year-olds surveyed said they involved at least one parent or guardian in their abortion decision. Those young people who didn’t involve a parent said that they were worried that they may be thrown out of their homes, or experience other abuse by their guardian.
This puts judicial bypass helpers in a delicate situation. From the beginning of this process, judicial bypass helpers should create a safety plan to address the current situation. A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that can help the client avoid dangerous situations and know the best way to react if they’re in danger. This tool is often used in the counseling setting for people experiencing domestic violence or suicide prevention. This plan can answer key questions in your working relationship such as:
- Can I leave a voicemail on your phone? If so, should I use a code name?
- Is there a safe place you can store important case information at home or somewhere you trust?
- In the event of an urgent case update if I cannot reach you (client), do I have permission to contact a trusted friend or family member to get in touch with you?
- If meeting at the legal office is not an option due to transportation is there a safe place we can meet?
- Who will I call in the event of a mental health crisis or emergency?
Here are some helpful resources on creating a personalized safety plan for your client along with information on tech & social media safety:
- Love is Respect: Interactive Guide to Safety Planning
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Path to Safety
- National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: Safety Plan Template
Use your multi-disciplinary team.
Judicial bypass helpers include clinic staff, abortion funders, medical personnel, trusted mental health/social workers, hotlines, courthouse staff, and trusted family members. These folks are people who your client may be in contact with throughout the judicial bypass process. Establish working relationships with these folks to help support your cases. Here are some resources you can reach out to:
- Find your local abortion fund. They can provide financial support to cover the procedure and in some cases practical support such as transportation, lodging, rides, childcare or meals.
- Connect your client with an abortion positive talkline. All-Options offers free peer counseling over the phone to anyone at any point before, during or after pregnancy.
- Provide mental health support options. As a judicial bypass helper you may provide emotional support to your client. It’s important to connect them with experienced professionals to talk with in the event of a mental health emergency. Include this information as a contact option on their safety plan: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, LGBT Suicide Hotline (provides chat options and specializes in LGBT youth support).
We must stay grounded in the fact that young people seeking abortions without parental/guardian involvement could be living in volatile circumstances and our attempts to support them must respect their autonomous decision making at this vulnerable time.
Stephanie Loraine is a reproductive justice advocate and social worker born in Puerto Rico, now residing in Central Florida. She is an abortion storyteller with We Testify, a leadership program of the National Network of Abortion Funds and has been featured in publications such as Teen Vogue, La Prensa, and Miami Herald. Since 2015, she’s served as the Board Vice President of the Central Florida Women’s Emergency Fund, an abortion fund providing financial support to over 300 people a year. Through her leadership, the fund has expanded its service area to include Puerto Rico in order to support people needing abortions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In her free time she enjoys cooking and eating Puerto Rican food, binge-watching crime series and reading on the beach.
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