02 October 2009

When a minor in Philadelphia needs an abortion

So you live in Philadelphia, you're under 18, and you need an abortion. What to do? It's a simple process, really.

Step 1. Go to New Jersey and get an abortion. If you don't have the means (cash, transportation, etc.) to go to Jersey, proceed to Step 2.

Step 2. Go to Planned Parenthood. The fee depends on how far along you are. There's also a sliding scale calculation based on your income. Medicaid will not pay for your abortion unless you were raped, or you were a victim of incest, or the pregnancy is endangering your life. Same deal if you're on a public employee's health insurance plan.

Step 3. Receive your state-mandated counseling. At Planned Parenthood, this counseling consists of a video performed by a doctor who is obviously very irritated and very bored to have to recite the state-mandated language to a roomful of women who need healthcare and the loved ones who are present with them to help them out.

Step 4. Get the written consent of your parent or legal guardian. If you can't get this consent because (a) your parent or legal guardian is the person who impregnated you; or (b) your parent or legal guardian will beat you, kill you, or kick you out of the house when they learn you're pregnant; or (c) you are an "emancipated minor"; or (d) your known parent is incarcerated, your other parent is unknown or deceased, and your caregiver is not legally your guardian, go to Step 5. If you have the written consent of your parent or legal guardian, skip ahead to Step 6.

Step 5: Judicial bypass. Meet in a small, windowless room with a volunteer to fill out the paperwork. Your volunteer is likely an earnest, well-meaning, upper-class white law student in their early 20s who can count on 1 hand the number of conversations they've had with someone from your socio-economic class. They've had very little training, but at least they've seen the legalese before. They will ask some very personal questions about your background and your medical status, which are necessary for the paperwork, and then will give you a phone number and name of a lawyer to call at the Philadelphia public defender's office. You do not have to pay this lawyer, and you do not have to pay the court for your judicial bypass. In a few days (because the judges handle judicial bypass cases only on certain days) you'll go to Family Court at 1801 Vine Street with the public defender's office lawyer, and you'll meet with 1 of 3 judges who deal with judicial bypass cases. If you're lucky, you'll get the judge who despises the legal hoops you're being forced to jump through, and they'll sign the bypass order quickly. If you're unlucky, you'll get the judge who will ask you some humiliating questions as to why you need an abortion, why you can't get your mom to sign the consent form, and where your dad is. But this judge will sign the paperwork, too. It is almost 100% certain that you will get your judicial bypass, at which point you may proceed to Step 6.

Step 6. Wait 24 hours. The state requires that you go home and wait at least 24 hours. The hope is that you reconsider the abortion and decide not to go through with it. The reality is that the delay causes most women to lose twice as many hours at work and school than they otherwise would have to. Note that the 24-hour waiting period -- often more than 24 hours, because clinics do not perform abortions every day of the week -- may have moved your pregnancy so far along that your abortion would now be more complicated, more expensive, or more illegal to perform.

Step 7. Return to Planned Parenthood and get the abortion. Your appointment will probably be very early in the morning. There will likely be protestors there, holding up gruesome signs, loudly reciting scripture at you, and possibly chanting and shouting. However, volunteer "clinic defense escorts" wearing brightly colored vests will accompany you from your car or from the sidewalk to the clinic door, walking between you and the protestors.

Step 8. Go home, take a few days off, take care of yourself, and attend any follow-up appointments the clinic staff tell you to attend.

No comments: