In Legal Challenge to NJ Parental Notification Act, ACLU Defends Rights of Teens

July 28, 2004

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.

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