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Judicial Bypass in PA

What do I have to do before meeting with the judge?

First, call the clinic or doctor who will perform the abortion and arrange to hear the state lecture ("informed consent"). You should get this state lecture before meeting with the judge. If you don't know who to call, ask CHOICE (800-848-3367), Monday - Friday, 8:30 am-7:00 pm. You have the right to a free lawyer to help you get the judge's approval for your abortion. Your next step is to call your lawyer and fill out your application form for permission for an abortion.   See the bottom of this page for information on finding a lawyer.

Do I really need a lawyer?

You do not have to use a lawyer, but you may have a better chance of getting judicial consent with a lawyer's help. The lawyer will help you fill out and file the application forms and find the right office in the courthouse, and will be on your side during the meeting with the judge. If you decide not to use a lawyer, please get a counselor at your clinic to help you through this process.   See the bottom of this page for information on finding a lawyer.

Will it cost me anything to get a lawyer or meet with a judge?

No. The hearing and the lawyer's services are free. See the bottom of this page for information on finding a lawyer.

What happens at the hearing with the judge?

Each county conducts judicial bypass hearings differently. The hearing is usually informal and like a meeting. It is confidential. It is not a trial. In some counties, it is held in the judge's office ("chambers"), not in a courtroom. The judge usually wears a regular suit, and in many counties, the judge sits with you and your lawyer around a desk or table. There are no reporters, no jury and no lawyer on the other side. The hearing typically lasts a short time. The judge will not know your name and might use your initials ("Ms. N") or a made-up name ("Jane Doe"), or call you "petitioner."

Who will be at the hearing?

The hearing is private. No one is allowed to attend except you, anyone you choose to bring with you, your lawyer, the judge, and possibly the judge's clerk or secretary.

Is the judge allowed to tell my parents?

No. No one -- including the judge -- is allowed to tell your parents, your boyfriend, or anyone else about your pregnancy.

You may have to sign a form that contains your initials and your parents' names and addresses, but this information must be kept completely confidential.

What does the judge have to decide?

The judge must answer one question: Is this young woman mature enough to make her own decision? If the answer is yes, the judge must give you permission for the abortion regardless of how he or she feels about if. If and only if the judge finds that you are not mature, the judge must then consider a second question: Would an abortion be in this young woman's best interests? If the answer is yes, the judge must give you permission for the abortion no regardless of how he or she feels about it.

What kinds of questions will I have to answer?

The judge may want to know that you understand the abortion procedure, that you have thought carefully about your decision, and that no one is forcing you to get an abortion. She or he might also want to know whether you have responsibilities at home, school or work (including babysitting, caring for sick relatives, part-time jobs, etc.) or plans for the future that show how mature you are.

How long will it take the judge to decide?

The judge may decide right after the hearing. The judge must decide within three business days after you file your application. "Business days" do not include legal holidays and weekends. If the judge does not decide within three business days, you have the right to a free, confidential, speedy appeal to a higher court.

What should I do if the judge rules in my favor?

The judge will give you an "Order" giving you permission to get an abortion. You must take this Order with you when you go for the abortion, along with any other consent forms or identification required by your abortion provider. As long as 24 hours have gone by since you received the state lecture, you can get your abortion as soon as you get this Order.

What if I change my mind?

You are always free to change your mind and decide you do not want an abortion. The judge's Order simply states that you may have the abortion if you want it; it does not force you to get one.

What can I do if the judge rules against me?

Your lawyer can file an immediate appeal with a higher court asking for permission for an abortion. The higher court ("Superior Court") must decide within five business days. If you do not yet have a lawyer, you should get one now -- the lawyer's services are free. You can also go to another state that does not have these laws.

When you meet with a judge, you have the right to:

  • A speedy decision: The judge must decide within three business days from the time you file your application.
  • A lawyer: A lawyer will be appointed for you unless you bring your own lawyer or decide you don't want one.
  • Confidentiality: The law requires that the hearing before the judge be completely secret. No information identifying you may appear on any record open to the public, and no one should ever know that you have been to court. Even if the judge does not give permission for the abortion, he or she is not permitted to notify your parents.
  • Answers to your questions: Your lawyer, your abortion provider, CHOICE and the Women's Law Project are all available to answer your questions about the bypass procedure. Don't be afraid to ask any question and remember that no question is a stupid question.
  • Accompaniment: You have the right to have anyone you want with you at the meeting with the judge. 

If you are denied any of your legal rights, or if you have a complaint about your lawyer, your judge or your hearing, call the Women's Law Project at 215-928-9801.

FINDING A LAWYER

If you have chosen to meet with a judge, you may want to go with a lawyer. Each county has a different system for assigning lawyers to judicial bypass cases. You can meet with a judge either in the county where you live or in the county where you will get your abortion. 

  • Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) - call your abortion provider
  • Bucks County - call Planned Parenthood, 215-785-4591
  • Chester County - call Planned Parenthood, 800-230-PLAN
  • Dauphin (Harrisburg), Cumberland, and Perry Counties - call the Judicial Bypass Project, 717-234-2479
  • Lehigh County (Allentown), call Allentown Women's Center, 610-264-5657 or Lehigh Courthouse, 610-820-3020
  • Montgomery County - call the Child Advocacy Unit of the Public Defenders office, 610-292-5019
  • Philadelphia - call the Philadelphia Defender Association Motions Unit, 215-568-3190
  • For other counties - call your abortion provider or CHOICE at 1-800-84-TEENS

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