Alabama wants to reinstate hearings for pregnant girls

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's top prosecutor said the state is going to appeal a federal judge's ruling that struck down a one-of-a-kind law in which minors seeking court permission for an abortion could be put through a hearing where the fetus could get a lawyer and a district attorney could question the pregnant girl's maturity.

The state filed the notice of appeal on Tuesday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Alabama legislators in 2014 changed the state's process for girls who seek a judge's permission for an abortion instead of their parents'. The new law empowered the judge to appoint a representative "for the interests of the unborn child" and allowed the local district attorney to call witnesses and question the girl to determine whether she's mature enough to decide.

The state has argued that the process allowed for a more robust inquiry to help a judge make a decision about the girl's maturity level.

"Alabama's parental consent law strikes a balance between protecting the privacy rights of a pregnant minor and the obligation of a bypass court to render a decision in the best interest of the minor's well-being," Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Reproductive Health Services, a Montgomery abortion clinic, a filed the lawsuit in 2014 challenging the statute. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker last month ruled against the state and said it unconstitutionally and impermissibly imposes "an undue burden on a minor in Alabama who seeks an abortion through a judicial bypass," and violates the girl's confidentiality.

In his statement, Marshall argued that the proceedings are confidential and that Walker "erroneously concluded that amendments to Alabama's parental consent abortion law passed in 2014 undermine a minor's right to anonymity and are therefore unconstitutional."

It is unclear how many such proceedings have happened since the law was enacted. Walker noted that a district attorney this summer opposed the abortion request of a 12-year-old girl who had been raped by an adult relative. The judge said it was the first case she was aware of that was decided under the new law.

The girl was 13 weeks pregnant and had just completed fifth grade when she went before a family court judge, according to a court record. The judge approved the abortion on June 27, and the district attorney appealed the same day, arguing that the girl was too immature to make an informed decision. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled in favor of the girl on July 12.

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