In Texas, teenage girls who need an abortion must get their parents’ consent, but for many young people, this is not an option. Perhaps they are in foster care or they are unaccompanied minors in migrant detention, in which case the government has legal authority over them. Perhaps their parents are violent or are categorically opposed to abortion.
The Supreme Court has ruled that parents do not have the absolute power to have their children pursue unintended pregnancies, so Texas, like many other states, has an allowance for what is called judicial circumvention. . If a pregnant minor can prove to a judge that she is mature enough to make her own decision, or that informing a parent is not in her best interest, she can obtain a waiver allowing her to have an abortion.
But Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which the Supreme Court refused to uphold, has all but ended legal circumvention. Even if a girl finds out she is pregnant when a home test can detect it, going through the court circumvention process and the state’s 24-hour waiting period before six weeks of pregnancy is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. As long as the law, known as Senate Bill 8, is in effect, abortion will not be available to some of the state’s most vulnerable adolescents. It doesn’t matter, by law, if they’ve been raped or if telling their parents they’re pregnant will put them at risk. It doesn’t even matter if it was their father who got them pregnant.
Jane’s Due Process is an organization that helps pregnant minors obtain exemptions. Rosann Mariappuram, its executive director, told me that before SB 8, at least one teenager per day usually seeks help from the group. Ten percent to 15 percent of her clients are either in immigrant detention or in foster care, which means there is no way for them to have an abortion without a judge. approved.
Since the new law came into effect earlier this month, there has been a “drastic drop in calls,” Mariappuram said. She speculated that most of the minors “assumed they were over six weeks old and couldn’t get treatment.” At the same time, she said there has been a huge increase in demands for pregnancy tests and emergency contraceptives, which the group is distributing for free.
If pregnant teens attempt legal circumvention, they are in a race against time. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week insisted the new law does not harm rape victims because “it allows at least six weeks for a person to have an abortion.” His refusal to learn the basics of human reproduction shows how flippant he is about the impact of the law he signed. In fact, many women don’t know they’re pregnant at six weeks, about two weeks after a missed period. Pregnancies are often not even detectable for about four weeks.
When a new client asks for help, Jane’s Due Process begins by immediately scheduling an ultrasound, then attempts to get an expedited hearing before a judge. Judges are supposed to schedule bypass hearings as soon as possible, but they have discretion as to what that means. After a teenager has argued her case, the judge has up to five business days to render a decision. In the past, if a judge refused an application, Jane’s Due Process could appeal, but since this process usually takes a few weeks, this is no longer an option.
So, for a desperate teenage girl to have an abortion, everything has to be okay. “If they get to five and a half weeks, we have three or four days to do it,” Mariappuram said. “Only adolescents who live in or near large metropolitan areas can do this, due to the travel required to get to clinics. “
Adults with resources can leave the state for an abortion. Adolescents who do not have their parents’ help usually cannot. If you can’t tell your parents you’re pregnant, you probably can’t explain a road trip to New Mexico, either. People in immigration detention obviously cannot travel. “There are no options for them,” Mariappuram said.
It was a minor scandal when Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under Donald Trump, used his authority to try to prevent some migrant girls from having abortions. Now the whole state of Texas is doing it. The growing authoritarianism of the Republican Party means that policies that were shocking as recently as 2018 can quickly become routine.
As the Washington Post reported, Republican officials in at least seven states are considering copying Texas’ abortion law. The human toll will be terrible; a large study of women who wanted to have an abortion but were denied it found that forced childbirth had heartbreaking consequences for their physical and mental health, finances and the children they already had.
There is an added dose of cruelty in stripping young people who have the least control over their own lives of control over their bodies as well. The loophole for troubled teens was already minimal. Texas has reduced it to a pin prick.