On January 18, 2013, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a juvenile court order denying minor abortion without parental notification and cleared the way for the abortion to proceed.  The Court of Appeals found that the juvenile court failed to render its decision within 24 hours of the conclusion of the Friday hearing as required by the parental notification law.

Court authorizes minor abortion

A Georgia unemancipated minor wishing to have an abortion without her parents’ knowledge can petition the juvenile court under the Parental Notification Act (“the Act”), OCGA § 15-11-110 et seq.  On January 18, 2013, the Georgia Court of Appeals decided in the case of In the Interest of Jane DOE, Case A13A0963, that the juvenile court must render its decision within 24 hours of the hearing, or else the petition is deemed granted and the abortion may proceed without parental notification.  The procedure contemplated in the Act is very fast track — in the Jane DOE case, the 17 year old girl filed her petition on January 2, 2013, the juvenile court held a hearing on January 4, and on January 7 the court issued its order denying her petition.  January 4th was a Friday, and the Court issued its decision on Monday.  The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court order on January 18th because the order was not issued within 24 hours as required by Georgia’s Parental Notification Act.   The juvenile court’s deadline to issue an order was Saturday January 5th, so the minor can proceed with the abortion without parental notification.

Parental Notification Act

Georgia’s Parental Notification Act is part of the chapter on juvenile court proceedings.   The Act provides that no physician or other person shall perform an abortion upon an unemancipated minor under the age of 18 unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian who shows proper identification and has been notified of the abortion, the phyisician’s office gives at least 24 hours actual notice to a parent or guardian of the pending abortion, or waits 72 hours after sending notice to a parent or guardian by certified mail.  (There are more specific procedures in the Act.)  The minor must also sign a consent form stating that she consents, freely and without coercion, to the abortion.

If either the minor or the physician elect not to use the parental notification procedure, or if the parent or legal guardian cannot be located, the Act states that the minor may petition (either herself or by “next friend”, a third party advocate) any juvenile court in the state for a waiver of the parental notification requirements.  It does not have to be the juvenile court of the minor’s residence.  The juvenile court is required to assist the minor or next friend in preparing the petition and required notices, and no court filing fees are to be charged to the minor.

The Act says a hearing on the petition must be held within three days of filing, excluding weekends and holidays.  The parents or guardian of the unemancipated minor are not to be served notice of the petition or notified about the hearing.  If the court does not conduct the hearing within the three days, the law says the petition is deemed granted, so the abortion could proceed without notifying the minor’s parent.

The court hearing is to be conducted so that the parties remain anonymous.  An attorney may be appointed for the minor if she wants counsel.  The Court can waive the parental notification requirements if the Court finds that the unemancipated minor is mature enough and well enough informed to make the abortion decision in consultation with her physician, independently of the wishes of her parent or guardian; or if the Court finds that notice to a parent or legal guardian would not be in the best interests of the minor.

The juvenile court is required to make written, specific factual findings and legal conclusions supporting its decision.  The Court has 24 hours from the time the hearing ends to render its written decision, otherwise the Act states that the petition is deemed granted.   If the juvenile court denies the minor a waiver of the notice requirement, the minor can file an expedited appeal to the Court of Appeals.

The Georgia law applies to all unemancipated minors within the state – the minor does not have to be a resident of the State of Georgia to use this procedure.  In the event of medical emergency, the physician can perform an abortion without notifying the parent or using this procedure.

Unemancipated minor definition

What is an unemancipated minor?  The Parental Notification Act definition is “any person under the age of 18 who is not or has not been married or who is under the care, custody, and control of such person’s parent or parents, guardian, or the juvenile court of competent jurisdiction.”

Parents should be knowledgeable of Parental Notification Act waiver

Parents should assume that their teenage children are either aware of the Act’s parental notification waiver process, or will be made aware of the waiver process by third parties in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.   While the Act is designed to provide for advance parental notification of an abortion, the notification waiver process in the Act is easily accessed and inexpensive to pursue.   The end result can be an abortion about which the parents have no knowledge.

Contact Hindson & Melton LLC for further information on this topic.

©Karen S. Hindson, Hindson & Melton LLC, January 26, 2013