Accurate Information on Judical Bypass in Virginia Depends on Who Is On the Other End of the Phone

For a teen who wants to access a safe, legal abortion without informing a parent, getting a judicial bypass may be completely dependent on who she calls.

A pregnant teen in Virginia has a less-than 50 percent chance of getting a judicial bypass to obtain safe abortion care without parental consent, according to a new report released by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. An extensive study of the judicial bypass process in the state has shown that for pregnant teens, access to quick, accurate, and helpful information about how to obtain an abortion without parental consent literally depends on which number she calls.

Based on a “red, orange, yellow, and green” rating scale of one to 100, Virginia circuit courts were called and asked specifically about how a minor could obtain judicial bypass. Information requested included possibility of representation, the costs associated, the time frame needed as well as issues of confidentiality. The report methodology states: “Being graded on a score of 0-100, twenty points were given for overall treatment, thirty for the accuracy of the initial response, and fifty for the accuracy of the answers as a whole.” A score of 76 or above was green, 25 or below was red.

The results were a massive red light.

According to their study 67 of 123 jurisdictions, or 55 percent, fell into the lowest tier of access and approval and were either unable to or simply unwilling to provide additional information on judicial bypass, or provided factually inaccurate information. Less than 30 percent of jurisdictions were  “green”—a label provided to those that had the highest level of accuracy and helpfulness.

Perhaps the most frustrating result was the number of counties contacted that advised seeking legal representation, an unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming process. A full quarter of all calls recommended that path, despite the fact that a court is required to provide an attorney for the minor at no cost. Others advised the caller to contact a crisis pregnancy center instead.

The results, although not entirely unexpected, were still a sign that changes need to be made to ensure that teens are provided with the information they need to access care.

“While NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia firmly believes that a minor should tell her parents if she is facing an unintended pregnancy, we recognize that this is not always possible,” said Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia via statement. “Young women who are victims of rape, incest or abuse can face life-threatening situations should they reveal their pregnancies to their families – and they deserve complete and accurate information regarding the law and their options in the courts. The number of Virginia court employees who did not know about judicial bypass or who provided inaccurate information is deeply troubling.”

As a result of their study, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia is launching a new website, Pregnant Teen VA, so teens have access to accurate and necessary information in a timely manner so they can navigate the judicial bypass system. The site also provides information for teens who wish to continue their pregnancies, providing adoption and parenting resources, as well as additional information on birth control and contraception.  Until court employees have a better understanding of both the process system and how to explain it to those who call, the group believes their website will provide the necessary information a teen may need—without the need to rely on someone at the other end of the phone.