Judicial Bypass in Arkansas? “We Don’t Give ANYONE Permission for Abortions Here!”

How hard is it for a teen to get an abortion without parental permission? One social worker tries to navigate the legal system.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously and inadvertently suggested that quotes from Susan Yanow were made in an interview with Rewire. The quotes were drawn from work published by the Reproductive Health Access Project, which is linked in this article. We deeply regret the error.

For a teen trying to obtain an abortion under a judicial bypass, the legal system is difficult to maneuver irrespective of the state in which you live. In work conducted for the Reproductive Health Access Project, social worker Susan Yanow discovered that in Arkansas, it may be more than difficult; it may be impossible. During an attempt to test the system for a new provider, the advocate learned that, in one particular county, no judicial bypass request has ever been granted:

I called the local court; the first person I spoke to had no idea what a judicial bypass was. This made sense to me as there has never been an abortion provider in this part of the state. I was then referred to the juvenile court, [which] referred me to the probation department, [which], in turn, referred me to the Circuit Court.  In each call, people were courteous but had no idea what the process would be.  I tried to imagine a 16-year-old with an unwanted pregnancy trying to navigate this system….

I was finally referred to the clerk of the Circuit Court.  She said, “I’ve been here for 12 years; I’ve never heard of this type of petition.”  I offered to send her a copy; her response was, “You can send it, but we don’t give ANYONE permission for abortions here!”   This clerk works for the judge in this rural county.

This physician will be sending her minors to a different county if they need a bypass, and I learned a good lesson about the challenges that young and rural women face in so many parts of our country.

Making judicial bypass more difficult is one area in which anti-choice activists have been focusing a great deal of attention, from pushing for passage of a federal law preventing teens from traveling outside their state to find a sympathetic judge to bills requiring that teens seek a bypass only from the judge in the county in which they reside, they want to ensure that obtaining a bypass is as cumbersome as possible, and creates as long a delay as possible for a pregnant girl in dire circumstances.