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

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously and inadvertently suggested that quotes from Susan Yanow were made in an interview with RH Reality Check. 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.

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  • veggietart

    On the one hand, a teenager can’t even get her ears pierced without parental permission.  But she can have surgery (which is what abortion is) without a parent’s approval?


    However, I fully undertand that some girls have parents who are abusive, neglectful, or in some way unable to provide their children the love and support they need. And there needs to be a way to help girls like this who are in trouble.


    Sadly, some states have laws that would criminalize taking a teenager out of state for purposes of circumventing parental consent laws.  And they’re probably the same ones that won’t provide a judicial bypass.

  • squirrely-girl

    I’d want to see some stats on this… but my gut instinct is that those girls who have parents they can go to, do. 

  • thalwen

    It’s an easy issue for me. Pregnant women are already at a high risk for violence from their partners. Pregnant teens also face the risk of becoming homeless or abused by their parents. There is also the chance that a family member or her father was the one who impregnated her. Even with states with easy access judicial bypass it’s still easier for a girl to go to her parents, and most teens who have good relationships will. It’s the ones who face danger in disclosing their pregnancy that need the bypass and it needs to be accessible. I would also argue that there is a compelling state interest in preventing unwanted pregnancies in teenagers, though that’s not what states with parental notifications statues have in mind. 


    With stuff like ear piercing/tylenol dispensation that danger isn’t there. No (normal) parent is going to kick a child out or beat them up because they asked to get their ears pierced.