You have the right to an attorney…

Talk about “fetal personhood”

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.


  1. brett says

    I have no idea of what judgment will come out of that imbecilic Fifth Circuit of Appeals, but this sounds like a clear violation of the “bypass” concept if the parents can be notified.

  2. iknklast says

    The lesson to girls? Don’t get pregnant unless you’re old enough to legally abort – then make sure you get pregnant in some other state, because our abortion laws have closed down most clinics.

    I SO BELIEVE the talking point that there is no war on women. Oh, yes, I so believe that…if you believe that, clap your hands! What’s this? Silence?

  3. Silentbob says

    Another example of Poe’s Law. I would have chuckled if this were in the Onion.

    How’s this attorney supposed to consult with their client? Stethoscope?

    “Kick once for yes, twice for no.”

  4. Eric MacDonald says

    I swear, if I were to live another ten thousand years, I would not understand the American legal system, in which it is possible for states to pass and enforce such laws. Why are individual states, where influence can be so easily brought to bear on second-rate legislators, allowed to pass laws that can intervene so arbitrarily in the lives of individuals? It simply beats me. And how is it possible to speak of the land of liberty where it is so easy to abridge the freedoms of citizens?

    There has never been a basis in common law for the standing of a foetus as a legal person. Indeed, to give legal personhood to a foetus is the thin edge of the wedge. Don’t forget, if a foetus of a minor is a legal person, then all foetuses are legal persons. This is a piece of legal idiocy which could yield dramatic results. Time to squelch it now.

  5. John Horstman says

    This is just such an absurd case of projection. Ignoring the issue of a person’s ansolute right to bodily autonomy for a minute, I imagine the rationale is to have a lawyer represent the fetus’s interests. But even accepting that framing, a fetus has no interests – it is not self-aware and can’t have abstract thoughts, and the ability to model abstract thoughts is required to predict/anticipate possible future events, a key piece of having any interst that isn’t a function of an immediate stimulus-response process. We might as well appoint lawyers to represent tapeworms when people wish to have them removed.

    Of course, the entire personhood debate is a derailing tactic anyway, because anyone who is universally accepted as a person still doesn’t have a right to use (let alone inhabit) a woman’s body without her consent, even if necessary for survival.

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