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Abortion laws and women under 18 in Colorado

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

I wrote a column recently about the age of sexual consent in Colorado. Predictably, the outcome of underage liaisons is, at times, an unwelcome visit by the stork. The moral implications aside, which I will leave for you to wrestle with, what laws affect those under 18 seeking to abort an unwelcome pregnancy?

As a general thesis, a woman under 18 who wishes to have an abortion must inform her parents, foster parents, or court-appointed guardian. While this holds generally, there are exceptions.

If a pregnant teen is at least 15 years old and is “emancipated” (that is, not living with a parent, foster parent, or legal guardian and is self supporting, the underlying requirement of parental notification does not apply. Similarly, when a young woman under 18 is married and not living with a parent or guardian, notification is not required.

Where there is a history of abuse at the hands of a parent, guardian, or foster parent and the pregnant teen informs her doctor or nurse of such abuse, parental notification may not be required. But the woman’s doctor or nurse is required by law to report the woman’s name and other information to law enforcement officials who investigate the matter.

Parental notification may also be avoided where a treating physician determines there is a medical emergency and an immediate abortion is required.

A pregnant teen may avoid parental notification, too, when a court has reached the determination that the teen is sufficiently mature to make the decision to have an abortion absent such notification. Lastly, a court may determine that it is in the teen’s best interests not to let her parents know.

When the court makes either of the foregoing determinations, it is referred to as a “judicial bypass.” Of course, the teen must approach the court and ask it for permission to have the abortion without telling her parents, foster parents, or guardian.

If a teen does not want to inform her parents of a pregnancy, she must file a petition in either the district court in the county in which she lives or in the Denver Juvenile court. The petition is “form” in nature and can be found on the Colorado court’s Web site. By law, the petitioner is entitled to receive a decision from the court within four calendar days after the petition is filed. If the court does not reach its determination within four days, the petition is automatically granted.

As the laws and procedures may seem daunting ” and as teens rarely have the financial resources to retain private legal counsel ” a woman may ask the court to provide a court-appointed lawyer free of charge. The lawyer will walk the teen through the procedural hurdles and argue her position, advancing either that she is sufficiently mature to make the abortion decision on her own or that her interests will best be served in not informing her parents or guardian.

Additionally, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the teen, an officer of the court charged with representing the best interests of the woman. If a guardian at litem is appointed, it is also free of charge.

Filing the petition with the court is free.

The process of petitioning the court is private and confidential. No one may find out

from the court that you have filed a petition and the court and its personnel may not inform your parents or guardian.

If the court rules favorably upon the petition, it will provide the doctor named in the petition with a copy of the decision. The physician may proceed to perform the abortion. If the court rules adversely upon the petition, the court’s decision may be appealed. If the petition is again denied, final recourse is to the Colorado Supreme Court which may or may not agree to hear a further appeal. Each step in this process remains fully confidential.

As I advanced in my column on the age of sexual consent, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doubly so in consideration of what may be the consequences of a moment’s heady passion.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” He can be reached at 926.4461 or by e-mail at robbins@colorado.net.


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