Superior Court Rules

Standing Orders

Superior Court Rules Superior Court Standing Order 5-81: Uniform procedures regarding petitions for abortion authorization under G.L. c. 112, § 12

Effective Date: 10/01/1998
Updates: Adopted July 31, 1981, effective August 1, 1981 Amended August 25, 1988, effective October 1, 1988
Applicable to all Counties


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Upon the filing of a petition or motion (petition) under G.L. c. 112, § 12S , inserted by St. 1980, ch. 240  (a copy of which is attached), the Clerk-Magistrate (clerk) shall immediately bring the matter to the attention of the Regional Administrative Justice or His/Her Designee who will either hear the petition in his/her session or, through the clerk, assign it for a hearing in another session.

In any event, the matter shall be given priority over all other cases then pending "so that the court may reach a decision promptly and without delay so as to serve the best interests of the pregnant woman." G.L. c. 112, § 12S , inserted by St. 1980, ch. 240 . In this regard, the court should not decline to decide a case brought under § 12S because of any pleading omissions or other technical defects and shall assist the minor, particularly if unrepresented by counsel, in presenting relevant facts and by liberally construing the pleadings. (A copy of a form petition, which is to be made easily available to petitioners, is attached.)

If the petition is filed in a county in which no session is being held, the clerk of court who received the petition shall immediately notify the Chief Justice of the Superior Court by telephone of the pending petition. The Chief Justice shall then take such action as is necessary to reach a decision promptly and without delay so as to serve the best interests of the pregnant woman.


Although § 12S permits a pregnant woman less than eighteen years of age to participate in proceedings in the Superior Court Department in her own behalf, it is preferable that the minor be represented by counsel. The statute requires that the court advise her that she has a right to court-appointed counsel and that the court shall, upon her request, provide her with such counsel.

Also, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the minor or may make such other orders as necessary pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 17(b). The compensation for counsel and/or for the guardian ad litem shall be certified by the justice as an expense incident to the operation of the court. If the minor requests waiver of costs and fees, as provided by St. 1980, c. 539, such costs and fees are to be waived.


As provided by § 12S, all proceedings shall be confidential and all pleadings and other papers filed shall be designated anonymously. For example, the proceedings shall be titled Mary Moe, Mary Doe, etc. If the minor files papers which do not insure her anonymity, the court shall have the papers processed in a manner which will insure anonymity and shall return the defective papers to the minor or her counsel. An affidavit shall accompany the papers in the case. Such affidavit shall reveal the minor's true identity. The affidavit shall be sealed in an envelope which will be identifiable by having the docket number of the case inscribed upon it. All such envelopes shall be kept in a separate file by the clerks of the various courts. All papers in the proceeding shall be impounded.

The clerks of the various courts should undertake to insure that the minor's contact with the clerk's office is confidential and expeditious to the fullest extent practicable. For example, assistance in filing a petition should be provided in a confidential setting, such as a private office. Similarly, one or more persons in the clerk's office should be at all times available to answer questions asked by a minor, either in person or by phone, and to assist the minor in expeditiously presenting her petition to the court. Each clerk shall designate one or more persons to receive and process § 12S petitions and shall insure that one such person is available to insure prompt treatment.


All proceedings under c. 112, § 12S , shall be conducted jury-waived with a court reporter present. The statute requires the court to make in writing specific factual findings and legal conclusions supporting his or her decision and to order that a record of evidence be maintained which includes his or her own findings and conclusions.


Suggested guidelines, originally emanating from a memorandum of the Single Justice for Suffolk County in Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts v. Bellotti, No. 81-124 Civil (Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County; Liacos, J. Single Justice) (June 16, 1981), are attached hereto.

Suggested guidelines

The following guidelines for handling § 12S petitions ("petitions") are suggested to the Superior Court. These guidelines are intended to supplement amended Superior Court Standing Order No. 5-81 and not to replace it.

1. Petitions should ordinarily be heard on any day the court is in session.

2. Petitions should be heard as expeditiously as possible upon filing with the Clerk/Magistrate's office, and on the same day if practical.

3. All technical defects in the proceedings and in the pleadings and papers should ordinarily be disregarded by the Court and by the Clerk/Magistrate.

4. Hearings must be confidential and should be held in the judge's lobby except where physically impossible. The petitioner ("minor") should be permitted to have present any person she desires (social worker, counselor, parent, friend), but the judge should exclude all unnecessary court personnel or others. The minor should be free to choose whether to go forward without counsel.

5. The minor should not be required to state her true name. After explaining the impoundment procedures used to ensure confidentiality, the judge may wish to ask the minor her true first name in order to address her by it during the hearing. The transcript should not contain the minor's full true name since she will have previously stated her identity on a sealed affidavit held by the Clerk/Magistrate pursuant to Superior Court Standing Order 5-81.

6. It is contemplated that the judge will conduct the hearing on a "two-tier" basis with "maturity" determined first, and "best interest" addressed only if maturity is not found.

7. As to the "maturity" finding, inquiry may be appropriate in such areas as the minor's age and school and work experience, any history of mental illness or other treatment relating to mental competence, and whether the abortion decision is a personal decision and not one forced upon the minor by another and whether the minor has discussed her decision with other persons. In any inquiry as to the minor's maturity and her understanding of the nature, consequences and significance of her abortion choice, or in any inquiry as to her best interests, it is suggested that the judge should avoid the creation of the appearance of seeking to promote a particular set of moral values by inquiring into the minor's or her parents' views as to the morality of abortion; or into whether the minor considers a fetus to be an "unborn child," as to whether the minor believes she is in some way taking or destroying life.

8. Where the court finds a minor is not mature, it must make a determination of whether the abortion or childbirth alternative is in her "best interest". The court may be guided in making such a determination by the substantially coextensive doctrine of substituted judgment. That doctrine essentially requires a court to determine what an incompetent person would choose were she fully competent, while bearing in mind her expressed choice and partial competency. Various considerations may be relevant to a "best interest" determination. As to this finding, the court may inquire into the minor's reasons for not seeking her parents' consent. Where the minor is accompanied by one parent who supports her petition, that support should be given great if not dispositive weight.

9. Where the court preliminarily concludes that the minor is mature, appointment of a guardian ad litem should ordinarily be unnecessary. Where the court preliminarily concludes that the minor is not fully mature, it should consider whether such an appointment is necessary to assure protection of the minor's best interest or whether it would lead to unnecessary delay, particularly if the minor is represented by counsel, or has been counseled by competent professionals, or is accompanied by a parent or other adult.

10. In view of the statutory mandate for expeditious decisions, petitions may be decided in chambers and should, in any event, be decided as promptly as possible, and ordinarily within twenty-four hours or less. The Clerk/Magistrate should inform the minor of the decision as soon as possible and in the manner which the minor requests.

11. The Judge or Clerk/Magistrate should give the minor a copy of an order under § 12S bearing the court's docket number, and a copy of her sealed affidavit bearing the same docket number. Where the decision can be made immediately, the Judge may choose to have the minor wait, deliver the order and a copy of the affidavit to her, and seal the original affidavit in her presence.

12. A petition should not be denied or a hearing delayed solely because the minor has not selected a particular clinic, hospital or doctor for performance of the abortion. If the judge authorizes an abortion for an immature minor on the "best interest" basis, he may inquire into her contemplated plans in order to assure himself that the particular course of medical treatment she intends to follow will be in her best interests.

13. Appointed counsel in § 12S proceedings should be paid for in the same fashion as in criminal cases or in such other fashion as the Chief Administrative Justice of the Trial Court finds is best suited for such proceedings.

Downloads for Superior Court Standing Order 5-81: Uniform procedures regarding petitions for abortion authorization under G.L. c. 112, § 12


Updates: Adopted July 31, 1981, effective August 1, 1981 Amended August 25, 1988, effective October 1, 1988