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.
Elizabeth, NJ — A first of its kind settlement agreement will ensure that Elizabeth residents continue to have access to reproductive medical services even after Elizabeth General Medical Center merges with St. Elizabeth Hospital to form a new Catholic hospital, Trinitas Hospital.
Under the agreement, which was signed last Friday, Elizabeth General Medical Center will set aside $2.4 million in two separate trusts to be used by Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey to ensure delivery of certain medical services that will not be provided by Trinitas Hospital, which will be governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives of the National Catholic Bishops Conference. The funds will specifically support the provision of tubal case management, abortion referral and options counseling, direct financial assistance to women who cannot afford the full cost of abortions and tubal ligations, and transportation for women who will have to leave the City of Elizabeth to receive certain medical treatment after the formation of Trinitas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation and the Women's Rights Litigation Clinic intervened in proceedings regarding the transfer of Elizabeth General Medical Center's charitable assets to the new Catholic hospital on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey, the New Jersey Religious Coalition for Choice, New Jersey Right to Choose, Dr. Martin Hyman and two Elizabeth residents. In those proceedings the Honorable Miriam N. Span of Superior Court, Chancery Division, Union County, found that the conversion of the secular Elizabeth General Medical Center into a Catholic hospital was a change in charitable mission.
“This is a first,” said Renee Steinhagan, Special Counsel for the Women's Rights Litigation Clinic. “This is the first time that a court has permitted community organizations to intervene as a party in a court hearing held to determine the propriety of a merger between two charitable health care organizations, the first time that a court found that the transformation of a secular hospital to a Catholic one constituted a change in charitable mission, and the first time that a court approved a charitable asset payment that appropriately accommodated that change in mission.”
Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, agrees with this sentiment. “This is a great precedent that can be used by women's groups both in New Jersey and around the country to preserve women's access to important medical care. In this era of healthcare consolidations, the Catholic Church's strength in the hospital market, no longer has to mean the end of a women's right to choose.”
Steinhagan says that Judge Span's decision is important for precedential legal value and as an example of a judicial decision that considers important public policy principles as New Jersey's continuing loss of secular hospitals puts women's reproductive rights at risk.
HACKENSACK, NJ — The American Civil Liberties Union today filed suit on behalf of health care providers and their patients throughout the state to prevent New Jersey from enforcing a restrictive new abortion law aimed at minors.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU challenges as unconstitutional New Jersey's newly enacted Parental Notification for Abortion Act, which prevents minors from obtaining an abortion unless they first notify a parent or get a court order waiving the requirement.
“This law will harm, not help, teens,” said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney with the ACLU's National Reproductive Freedom Project and counsel on the case together with the ACLU of New Jersey. “While most teens already involve a parent in their decision to have an abortion, some cannot because a parent is abusive, terminally ill, or opposed to abortion,” she added. “Those who are forced to notify a parent may be beaten, kicked out of their homes, or forced into motherhood against their will.”
The law, if enforced, would radically change the way medical care has been delivered safely in New Jersey for over two decades. It also imposes financial penalties on any person who performs an abortion without complying with the law and holds them civilly liable to a parent who is denied notification.
Currently, pregnant minors in New Jersey may consent to all of their own medical, surgical, and hospital care related to their pregnancy. Although abortion is considerably safer than continuing a pregnancy through to childbirth, the law singles out pregnant minors who choose abortion — but not those who carry their pregnancies to term — and imposes on them alone the requirement of notifying a parent or going to court.
In legal papers, the ACLU argues that the law infringes on minors' right to privacy and discriminates against pregnant teens who choose abortion in favor of those who carry to term, in violation of the right to equal protection as guaranteed by the New Jersey Constitution.
But forcing minors to appear before a judge for a waiver is not the solution, the ACLU said. Many teens will be too afraid to go to court; others will be discovered as they attempt to make their way through the process, subjecting them to the very harms they seek to avoid.
“Whether minors in New Jersey have a physician notify a parent or go to court, their access to abortions will be delayed,” said Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey and co-counsel in the case. “This delay will increase the medical risks associated with the procedure and also make it more difficult, if not impossible, for minors to get the medical care they need.”
Major medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association oppose laws that require parental involvement in a minor's decision to have an abortion, Lapidus noted.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 health care providers, including Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey, Planned Parenthood Association of the Mercer Area, and the American Academy of Pediatrics/New Jersey Chapter. They are represented by National ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project attorneys Jennifer Dalven, Julie Sternberg, Cora Tung, Mariann Meier Wang and Louise Melling, and ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Lenora Lapidus.
The case, Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, number Ber-L-8026-99E7, was filed in Bergen County Superior Court in New Jersey.