Report: Advocates for Young People's Abortion Access Must Affirm Agency, Self-Determination

Welcome to our second annual 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 involve their parents in their abortion decisions are able to access the care they need swiftly and without shame or stigma.

To best support young people who seek access to abortion care, advocates must prioritize the self-determination, bodily autonomy, and personal agency of young people navigating an often opaque and oppressive system, according to a first-of-its-kind report released today by If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. Drawing on knowledge shared during our April 2018 Convening co-sponsored by Jane’s Due Process and Advocates for Youth, the report synthesizes the expertise of over one hundred young people, medical providers, legal advocates, and social work professionals, and identifies essential steps in ensuring that young people who cannot or choose not to involve a parent in their abortion decision are supported in geographies where they face significant legal hurdles to self-determining their reproductive futures.

“Forced parental involvement laws create unacceptable barriers for young people who need abortion care,” said If/When/How Senior Attorney Organizing Manager Jessica Goldberg. “To overcome those barriers, young people told us they need adult advocates who will listen to them and prioritize their self-determination and bodily autonomy.”

Thirty-seven states force those under the age of 18 either to involve a parent in their abortion decision or to navigate the judicial bypass process, in which a judge acts as a parental proxy, issuing a legal ruling approving or rejecting the young person’s decision to end their pregnancy. This can cause significant delays for young people seeking abortion care, especially youth of color and those living in foster care or other state facilities.

The landscape of forced parental involvement laws in the United States as of May 1, 2019.
The landscape of forced parental involvement laws in the United States as of May 1, 2019.


Supporting, Empowering, and Listening to Youth: Report of a National Convening on the Judicial Bypass examines the complicated nature of these restrictions, highlights best practices for building support networks by and for young people, and unpacks the role stigma and stereotyping can play in creating additional barriers to abortion access. As one participant put it, “Young people make important decisions about their lives every day,” highlighting the necessity of trusting youth as full participants in these processes.

“Forced parental involvement laws are an often unexamined part of the anti-abortion movement’s plan to escalate restrictions on abortion, which makes it doubly important for us to center youth – especially youth of color, immigrant youth, and LGBTQ youth – when working to make reproductive freedom a reality for all,” said Goldberg. Eliminating barriers to abortion care for young people is one of If/When/How’s five strategic initiatives — issue areas where If/When/How can play a novel role, marshal intellectual and practical resources, and make a real impact.

The report was authored by Rachel Rebouché, Associate Dean for Research, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law, consulting for If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. A version of this report appears in the journal Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice. The report would not be possible without the invaluable assistance of Caroline Reilly, who worked with Professor Rebouché to review Convening materials and draft the report. We extend additional thanks to the If/When/How student chapter at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law for their indispensable assistance in securing space to host the National Judicial Bypass Convening in April 2018.

Download a copy of the report here, and find more information about our strategic initiative on improving young people’s abortion access here.