Oct. 9, 2013— -- A Nebraska teenager in foster care was denied access to an abortion, because the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled she wasn't mature enough to make that decision on her own, according to a court opinion published this month.
"It's a very unique case," the young woman's lawyer, Catherine Mahern, told ABCNews.com. "It's OK for her to relinquish her child for adoption. She doesn't need a court to determine the underlying psychological impact or emotional impact of giving up a child, which I think is significant."
The 16-year-old girl, who was not named in the court opinion, was 10 weeks pregnant last May when she first asked a judge for a document that would allow her to obtain an abortion without parental consent. She explained that she wasn't financially ready to have a baby, and that she couldn't "be the right mom that [she] would like to be right now."
That same month, the court terminated her biological parents' parental rights, citing abuse and neglect, and made her a ward of the state, according to the court document. Her father was convicted of third-degree assault after he broke her collarbone and shoulder blade in 2011, and her mother had a drug problem, according to the court document.
She was placed in a foster home sometime in February.
The young woman said she worried that her foster parents would not allow her to have an abortion because of their strong religious beliefs, and would resent her and then tell her biological siblings that she was a "bad person," the document said.
The judge then asked her if she understood that an abortion would kill the fetus, according to the court document. She said she did. He then asked her whether she would "rather do that than to risk problems with the foster care people." Again, she said yes.
But the court concluded that the young woman wasn't mature enough to make the abortion decision on her own because she was financially dependent on her foster parents and had never lived on her own or mentioned any work experience.
As a result the judge ruled not to grant the waiver.
Mahern appealed the decision in July, but the appeal was shot down. The state Supreme Court judges released their opinion last week, again concluding that because the 16-year-old was still financially dependent on her foster parents, had not mentioned any work experience and had never lived on her own, she was not mature enough to make the decision to have an abortion.
To get a consent waiver from the court, the young woman had to prove abuse by her actual parents, but since they no longer had any parental rights over her when she asked the court for the waiver, the court wouldn't grant it.
"She is in a legal limbo, a quandary of the legislature's making," Judge William Connolly wrote in a dissenting opinion released last Friday.
Connolly pointed out that the state law conflicted with state policy. The young woman is a ward of the state, living in foster care, and the state's policy is not to give or withhold abortion consent to its wards, leaving the decision up to the woman. State law, however, law states that a pregnant woman younger than 18 needs written consent from a parent or guardian before she can obtain an abortion. A foster parent is separate from a legal guardian, and cannot give consent.
"The waiver doesn't apply to this young lady, because she doesn't have parents," Mahern said. "She's 16 years old. If she went in as a ward of the state and said, 'I want to terminate my pregnancy,' no provider would agree to do that."
Mahern said she couldn't say how the anonymous teenager was doing now or whether she got an abortion, because her client is a minor, but she said the young woman was not an isolated example.
"The real story here is how many girls in foster care are getting pregnant," she said. "It's shameful."
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to advance women's reproductive rights, women in foster care are more likely to become pregnant at a young age than women in the general population. While 14 percent of women become pregnant by age 17 or 18 in the general population, 33 percent of women become pregnant by the same age in foster care, according to the institute.
"Teen pregnancy is all too common among this population," according to a Guttmacher paper published in 2011. "Women in foster care are more than twice as likely as their peers not in foster care to become pregnant by age 19."
Mahern said it's especially difficult for these women when they age out of the foster care system at 19 in Nebraska.
"They're cut lose," she said. "They have a child, but no family to rely on."