This spring, Alabama Republicans passed an extreme new law that would force minors who want to have an abortion without a parent’s permission to undergo a grueling court trial—and it would give judges the right to appoint a lawyer for the fetus. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court to block the law, prompting national headlines.
Alabama’s new law sets up time-consuming inquisitions. It requires district attorneys to cross-examine minors who want an abortion without parental approval, and it allows DAs and lawyers for fetuses to call witnesses to testify against the pregnant girls. Under this measure, a judge can adjourn bypass hearings for long periods of time, and a judge can disclose the minor’s identity to any person who “needs to know.” If a minor’s parents become aware of a bypass hearing—which the Supreme Court intended to be confidential—the law allows the parents to participate in the hearing and be represented by a lawyer.
In other words, Alabama’s law is unprecedented. But the practice of appointing attorneys to represent fetuses in judicial bypass hearings is not. An Alabama judge tried to appoint representation for a fetus in the state’s very first bypass hearing in 1987. A 1988 Ms. cover story on that case reported that the judge, Charles Nice, reassigned an attorney who wanted to represent the minor to represent the minor’s fetus instead. The attorney refused to cooperate, and Judge Nice dropped the idea.
The fetus is way more important than the woman or girl who contains the fetus. If the fetus is born a girl…well she loses most of her importance right then and there. It’s kind of like the way a new car “depreciates” as it’s driven off the lot.