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Nebraska's Abortion Shame

A 16-year-old foster teen asked for an abortion—only to have her request denied by a radical judge. Sally Kohn on why America should be outraged by the case.

Conservatives don't want our government intervening in the economy to make it more fair or to help people who don't have enough money to help themselves. Conservatives don't want our government intervening to regulate pollution or global warming. Conservatives don't want our government intervening to improve public education. Conservatives don't want our government to collect taxes to support Social Security or Medicare let alone public parks and space exploration.

But conservatives are thrilled about government intervening in the uterus of a 16-year-old girl.

Some 39 states in our nation require some form of parental notification or consent for a minor to access abortion services. Nebraska is one of eight states that not only require consent but require notarized consent—that is, it's not enough to force a young woman to get a parent's approval for an abortion, she also has to bring the discussion to a notary.

In Nebraska last week, a 16-year-old girl in foster care sought access to abortion services. The young woman had just terminated the parental rights of her biological parents because they were physically abusive toward her. Now, the young woman found herself in a foster family that by her own account was religiously conservative—and she didn't want to raise the subject of terminating her pregnancy and risk being kicked out of her new foster home. So this young woman was a ward of the state. She was forced to ask a Nebraska judge to rule on what she could do with her own body.

The judge who ruled, District Judge Peter C. Bataillon, once served on a committee for an anti-abortion organization in Nebraska. Judge Bataillon ruled that this young woman was "not sufficiently mature" to make this decision and denied her request for an abortion. This despite the fact that this young woman received counseling on six occasions, underwent three ultrasounds and took the initiative to approach the court to request such permission in the first place—plus stated, very maturely it would seem, that she couldn't "be the right mom that [she] would like to be right now." No, instead, an obviously ideologically-motivated judge decided that this young woman was utterly too immature to get an abortion—but plenty mature to raise a child.

Let's stop here for a second to make two important points. First, abortion is a complicated and sensitive issue in America, and particularly so when we're discussing the ability of minors to access abortion services. As a mom, I understand that completely. Were my daughter to ever seek an abortion (a topic I wrote extensively about last week) I would sincerely hope that she would feel safe and comfortable to tell me. But feeling that she should tell me isn't the same as legally requiring that she and every young girl have to receive parental consent. One in five women is sexually assaulted in America. One in four women are victimized by domestic violence at some point in their lives. There are a host of reasons that a young woman might not feel comfortable or safe telling her parent(s) about her desire to get an abortion. We can no more legislate ideal family dynamics than we can legislate ideal family communication.

That said, second point: Why aren't conservatives outraged about the government forcing women of any age to get explicit, big-brother-sanctioned approval for any personal choice? What if we required families to get a court order before they could homeschool their children? What if we required notarized paperwork before families could decide for themselves about vaccination schedules? What if we required parental consent before young women or men could buy condoms? Conservatives don't want the government involved in registering gun ownership or even helping us buy affordable, private health insurance. But forcing young women to get government approval for what they do with their own bodies? Somehow that's okay?

Pro-choice organizations have filed a petition against Judge Bataillon, and are working to more broadly protest a legal system in Nebraska that gives more liberty and freedom to cows than to 16-year-old girls. In the wake of conservatives making desperate attempts not only to crack down on abortion access but even the ability of adult women to access basic contraception, during a year in which Republican leaders were denying the impact of rape, it's time we get politicians and politics the hell out of our bodies and our bedrooms. These conservative intrusions into women's bodies and lives are insulting and dehumanizing—and, frankly, anything but conservative.

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