In Texas, teens who need abortions must get their parents ’consent, but for many young people it is not an option. They may be in foster care or unaccompanied minors in immigration detention, in which case the government has legal authority over them. Perhaps her parents are abusive or strongly opposed to abortion.
The Supreme Court has ruled that parents do not have the absolute power to cause their children to continue unwanted pregnancies, so Texas, like many other states, has compensation for what is called a court referral. If a pregnant minor can prove to a judge that she has the maturity to make her own decision or that she is not interested in notifying her parents, she can get a waiver that allows her to have an abortion.
But the Texas six-week abortion ban, which the Supreme Court has refused to suspend, has put an end to court referrals. Even if a girl discovers she is pregnant at the time the evidence at home can pick her up, going through the judicial bypass process i 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 upheld, abortion will not be available to some of the state’s most vulnerable teens. It doesn’t matter, by law, if they were raped or if they informed parents they were pregnant it would put them in danger. It doesn’t even matter if their father was the one who impregnated them.
Jane’s Due Process is an organization that helps pregnant minors obtain exemptions. Rosann Mariappuram, its CEO, told me that before SB 8, at least one teenager a day used to ask the group for help. Ten to 15% of their clients are in detention for immigration or foster care, so there is no way to have an abortion without a judge signing it.
Since the new law went into effect earlier this month, there has been a “drastic drop in calls,” Mariappuram said. He speculated that most of the minors “assumed they had spent six weeks and could not be cared for.” At the same time, he said there has been a huge increase in requests for pregnancy tests and emergency contraceptives, which the group distributes at no charge.
If pregnant teens try a court referral, they are in a race against the clock. Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott insisted the new law does not harm rape victims because it “provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to have an abortion.” His refusal to learn the basics of human reproduction demonstrates the flow he has on the impact of the law he signed. In fact, many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks, about two weeks after a missed period. Pregnancies can often not even be detected for up to about four weeks.
When a new client asks for help, Jane’s Due Process begins by immediately scheduling an ultrasound and then trying to get an expedited hearing before a judge. Judges are supposed to schedule bypass hearings as soon as possible, but have discretion about what that means. Once a teenage girl has filed her case, the judge has up to five business days to issue a sentence. In the past, if a judge denied an application, Jane’s due process could appeal, but since that process usually takes a couple of weeks, it’s no longer an option.
So for a desperate teenager to have an abortion, everything has to go well. “If they get to five and a half weeks, we have three or four days to do it,” Mariappuram said. “Only teens living in or near major metropolitan areas can do so, due to the trips needed to get to the clinics.”
Resources-rich adults can leave the state to have an abortion. Teens who don’t have help from their parents largely can’t. If you can’t tell your parents you’re pregnant, you probably won’t be able to explain a road trip to New Mexico either. People detained for immigration obviously cannot travel. “There are no options for them,” Mariappuram said.
It was a minor scandal when Scott Lloyd, director of Donald Trump’s Refugee Settlement Office, used his authority to try to prevent some migrant girls from having abortions. Now the whole state of Texas does. The escalation of Republican party authoritarianism means that policies that recently impacted 2018 can quickly become routine.
As reported by The Washington Post, Republican officials from at least seven states are considering copying Texas’ abortion law. The human toll will be terrible; an extensive study of women who wanted to have an abortion but were denied found that forced childbirth had devastating consequences for their physical and mental health, their finances and the children they already had.
There is an additional dose of cruelty when it comes to stripping young people with minimal control over their own lives, who also control their bodies. The gap for teenagers in bad situations was already small. Texas has reduced it to do so.