TRENTON, NJ — Reaffirming the fundamental right of young women to choose to terminate their pregnancies, the New Jersey State Supreme Court, in a 4 to 2 decision, today struck down a law that would have prevented pregnant teens from getting an abortion unless they notified a parent or obtained a court order. The law did not impose a similar requirement on minors seeking other pregnancy-related care.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law on behalf of health-care providers and their patients throughout the state, said that today's decision sends a strong message that the state cannot enact laws that uniquely burden minors seeking abortions.
“Today's decision recognizes the unfortunate truth: not all teens come from perfect families,” said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney on the case with the National ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. “The Court's decision should serve as a guide to legislatures and courts around the country. It makes clear that when you put aside the state's rhetoric these laws do not further family communication, but instead put teens' health and rights at risk.”
In its decision, the Court recognized that a parental notification law will not serve to foster family communication. The Court explained, “[T]he Notification Act cannot transform a household with poor lines of communication into a paradigm of the perfect American family.”
The law in question, the “Parental Notification for Abortion Act,” would have radically changed the way medical care has been delivered safely in New Jersey for over two decades. It would have amended a long-standing New Jersey law that expressly permitted pregnant minors to consent to all care related to their pregnancies — whether they wanted to have an abortion or become mothers.
It would have singled out pregnant minors who choose abortion — but not those who carry their pregnancies to term — and imposed on them alone the requirement of notifying a parent or going to court.
In its opinion, the Court accepted the ACLU's argument that the New Jersey Constitution does not tolerate such discrimination. The Court held in no uncertain terms that “the State may not affirmatively tip the scales against the right to choose an abortion absent compelling reasons.” In this case, it found that the State had “failed utterly” to show that it has any significant interest to justify the burdens and discrimination imposed by the Act.
“This decision is not only a victory for young women in New Jersey who will now continue to have access to safe and legal abortions but for all state residents who will be able to rely on the state Supreme Court and Constitution to protect their fundamental rights,” said Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey and co-counsel in the case.
The case, Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, number A-52, was filed by the ACLU in September 1999 on behalf of 13 health-care providers, including Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey and the American Academy of Pediatrics/New Jersey Chapter. Attorneys on the case were Jennifer Dalven, Julie Sternberg, and Catherine Weiss of the National ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU of New Jersey.