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In 2011 and 2012, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia representatives conducted a study of the Virginia court system to assess its knowledge of Judicial Bypass, the legal process through which a minor may obtain an abortion without parental consent. The end result? An shocking and thought-provoking look into Virginia's legal system - and it's ability to serve youth across the Commonwealth. Read it now!
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.
- Virginia Teens Seeking Abortion Are Often Misinformed About Court Process, Report Finds, Huffington Post
- Accurate Information on Judicial Bypass in Virginia Depends on Who is On the Other End of the Phone, RH Reality Check