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Unborn Babies in Alabama Can Have Lawyers; ACLU Files Lawsuit to Overturn State's Strict Abortion Laws

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A police officer watches pro-life and pro-choice supporters demonstrating to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision in Washington, Jan. 24, 2011. |

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit attempting to overturn a new Alabama law that forces minors seeking an abortion without parental consent to face trial in order to gain the state's permission to follow through with a legal abortion. The law also allows the state to appoint attorneys to represent the life of unborn fetus.

The ACLU claims in its press release of the lawsuit that Alabama's judicial bypass law, which was passed in April and took effect in July, is the most extreme parental consent law in the nation and makes it more difficult for underaged Alabama girls to receive a safe abortion.

"This law aims to shame a young woman into not having an abortion," ACLU Executive Director Susan Watson said. "Why should she be put on trial and treated like a criminal for a constitutionally protected procedure?"

The law requires girls under the age of 18 seeking abortion without their parents permission to submit evidence to juvenile court that they fully understand the procedure and its ramifications. The child is also required to prove that she had received qualified counseling regarding the alternatives to abortion.

The law permits the juvenile court to appoint a lawyer to represent the unborn life. Under the law, the court is also required to notify the district attorney in the case the district attorney wants to participate in the proceedings and help the court make the decision.

The court is not allowed to contact the parents or guardians, but the law does allow for the parents to testify against their child if they already know about the case. The ACLU claims allowing the parents to get involved alters the judicial bypass law in an unprecedented manner.

President of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, A. Eric Johnston, who also helped draft the law, told The Christian Post that the ACLU's claim that the law "radically" alters the purpose of the judicial bypass process is not true.

"That is the ACLU's opinion and that's not correct," Johnston said. "It does not alter the judicial bypass procedure in a material way but only that it would permit an interested person such as parent, who already knew about the procedure to participate. They can presumably have done that under that old law or under the law of any other state. This just recognizes that parents do have a vested interest in their children and cannot be excluded if they know about it. The law has made clear that the court cannot contact them."

Republican state legislator Rep. Mike Jones, who sponsored the act, claims the law is truly designed to help girls that are victims of rape and incest for them to get an abortion without their parents knowing.

"It is not enough for them to just to say, 'I don't want my parents to know,'" Jones told AL.com.

Jennifer Dalven, the director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in the press release that this law could cause more teens to seek alternative unsafe abortion methods.

"Forcing a teen to go on trial to get an abortion doesn't make her any safer, and doesn't bring families together," Dalven said. "It just puts her at risk and could lead her to an illegal, unsafe abortions. None of us want that."

Johnston disagrees with ACLU's claim that the law will force more teens to seek unsafe abortions and said that is always a claim made by pro-choice groups when they try to take down a pro-life oriented abortion law.

"What they say is what any parrot would say. They always say that. It doesn't make any difference what the law is about," Johnston said. "As long as it involves abortion they always say 'these poor girls are going to a back alley or self abort.' That's just an excuse as a pretext to try and get judges who may not pay much attention the abortion issue to think maybe there is something to it."

Johnston added that the law's requirement to get the district attorney involved only further helps protect the minors.

"[The old law] did not fulfill the requirements to protect young girls," Johnston said. "To have the DA participate only gives a certain measure of meaning in protection of a judicial procedure, which otherwise in the past has just been a rubber stamp kind of procedure."

The ACLU also claims the law allows for an appeal to be filed if the child's abortion bypass is granted dragging out the case "for so long that the teen can no longer get the abortion she needs."

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