Girl in Foster Care Not 'Mature' Enough to Get Abortion: Court

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 15, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected the abortion request of a 16-year-old girl in foster care, ruling the girl was not mature enough to make the decision herself.

The case highlights some of the major concerns surrounding Nebraska's abortion consent laws.

In Nebraska, unemancipated minors and persons deemed incompetent must obtain written parental consent to receive an abortion.

However, courts may waive this requirement -- particularly for victims of abuse, incest or neglect -- if the court determines the woman is mature.

For the unnamed young woman here, identified only as Anonymous 5, parental consent was a tricky issue. The court terminated her biological parents' parental rights earlier this month, citing abuse and neglect, and made her a ward of the state, reports ABC News.

When she was 10 weeks pregnant, the young woman requested consent from the court for an abortion, alleging her foster parents wouldn't allow her to get an abortion because of their deeply-held religious values.

But the court ruled the young woman's foster parents could still act in her best interest despite their strict religious beliefs. Accordingly, the court denied her request for an abortion without the consent of one of her foster parents.

Lack of Maturity

Despite receiving counseling on six occasions, having undergone three ultrasounds, and approaching the court for permission to terminate her pregnancy, the court ruled 5-2 that the girl "failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that she is sufficiently mature and well informed" about the consequences of having an abortion.

In large part, the court used the young woman's lack of financial independence to reach its conclusion.

And yet, as ABC News points out, the court need not take into account "the underlying psychological impact or emotional impact of giving up a child," which can be tremendous.

Wards in Limbo

In a dissenting opinion, Judge William Connolly reasserted that Nebraska law requires minors to obtain parental consent or a court waiver. However, Connolly believes the consent laws don't apply to Anonymous 5 because she doesn't have parents.

He stated her foster parents' consent would be meaningless because they never applied to be her legal guardians, making the state her legal guardian, which can't give consent.

Because it was therefore impossible for Anonymous 5 to "choose to not get" parental consent -- a prerequisite to get a court waiver -- Connolly believed the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

As a result, in Connolly's opinion, Nebraska's consent laws leave many wards like Anonymous 5 in legal limbo. Most problematic, they function as an absolute ban on such minors' rights to seek an abortion, despite wards' staggering teen pregnancy rates.

It's certainly a legal dilemma ripe for a constitutional challenge.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard