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Virginia Gets a Failing Grade
Virginia's many restrictions on reproductive rights and lack of pro-choice policies earn an "F" in NARAL Pro-Choice America's annual rating of states' laws.


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Judicial Bypass for Minors

Virginia law requires minors to receive parental consent before having an abortion. Ideally, a teen considering having an abortion would be able to involve her parents in her decision – and thankfully, most young people already do.

But for some teens, this isn't an option. Teens may come from a home with physical or emotional abuse, fear a violent reaction from their parents, or may just not be able to contact their parent. For them, this law poses an incredible barrier to accessing abortion if they so choose, and possibly a threat to their safety and well-being.

Teens in Virginia who can't get consent from their parents are supposed to be able to request approval from a judge instead, in a process known as a "judicial bypass." If you think that sounds like it could be a tricky process for a teen to figure out , you're right. And unfortunately, our investigation shows that court staff in many Virginia jurisdictions don't make it any easier. In fact, many court staff members were either unaware of the process or simply declined to help a caller figure out how to initiate a judicial bypass request.
Read on to learn about our investigation and why Virginia's courts must do better to protect the safety and choices of our young people.

Bypassing Minor's Rights: Virginia's Difficulties with the Judicial Bypass Process

In 2011 and 2012, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation conducted a study of the Virginia court system to assess its knowledge of the judicial bypass process through which a minor may obtain a judge's consent for abortion in lieu of parental consent.

Background: Under § 16.1-241(W) of the Code of Virginia (drafted in 2003 by then state Senator Ken Cuccinelli) a minor may receive judicial approval for an abortion in place of parental consent. Such approval must be granted if the judge finds that either (1) it is determined the minor is mature and well-informed enough to make the decision, or (2) the judge determines that getting an abortion is in the minor’s best interest.

Methodology: Representatives of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia contacted court employees in each of the Commonwealth’s 123 jurisdictions inquiring about the procedure for obtaining a bypass. Each jurisdiction was graded based on the accuracy of the information it provided as well as the willingness and helpfulness the jurisdiction’s representatives exhibited toward our callers.

Findings: The majority of Virginia’s jurisdictions (55%) were placed in the "red” category – the lowest grade assigned. Virginia’s 67 "red” jurisdictions were either unable and/or unwilling to provide additional information on judicial bypass, or provided information that was almost completely incorrect. Fewer than thirty percent of jurisdictions were graded as being "green” – exhibiting the highest level of accuracy and helpfulness. Additional findings include:

  • 33 of Virginia’s jurisdictions (26%) told our representatives to seek private legal advice. According to the law, the court must let the minor know that she can have a lawyer, and must appoint one (at no cost) if she asks.
  • In over a dozen cases, our representatives were transferred at least 6 separate times after placing the initial call. In many cases, it was necessary to speak to 5 or more people before receiving an answer.
  • In courts that were unable to provide adequate information, the most common problem was complete lack of knowledge about the process. Several of the court employees surveyed were unaware that a judicial bypass process even existed in the commonwealth.
  • Among those jurisdictions that fell into the Red, or "failing” category, several were overtly judgmental and intimidating. In Northampton, for example, the court employee stated that the judicial bypass proceedings were "theoretically confidential… [but] it’s the Eastern Shore” – insinuating that confidential information would not remain so.


Corrective Action: To aid Virginia jurisdictions in improving their handling of the judicial bypass process, we have provided two policy recommendations directly to each clerk office:

  • The clerks’ office should educate all of its employees on the judicial bypass process, rather than designate a single person to handle those inquiries.
  • The clerk’s office should make details on judicial bypass easily obtainable online to ensure greater informational access to minors.

Furthermore, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has sent each of Virginia’s 123 jurisdictions a copy of our report, as well as a fact sheet outlining the law of Judicial Bypass. We have also created a brochure to promote awareness of the availability of judicial bypass, which we are in the process of sending to Virginia’s 20 women’s health centers.

Finally, to help provide comprehensive information to pregnant teens in Virginia, we have created an independent website called "Pregnant Teen VA". This website provides detailed information on Virginia’s judicial bypass process, as well as resources on adoption, birth control, and parenting.

Need more information? Read our full report or  review our Judicial Bypass Fact Sheet!

You can also check out news coverage of our report release:

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