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Public Health

Teens who want abortions without a parent’s consent need a court’s OK. That’s almost impossible now.

Demonstrators rally against the state's strict new abortion law, at the Capitol on Oct. 2.
Patricia Lim for KUT
Demonstrators rally against the state's strict new abortion law, at the Capitol on Oct. 2.

Many young people who are seeking an abortion in Texas are facing insurmountable barriers since the state’s six-week ban on the procedure went into effect. Minors who need a judge to grant them a way around the state’s strict parental consent laws are having a particularly tough time.

Jane’s Due Process helps minors get a judicial bypass — an order from a judge allowing them to get an abortion without parental consent. Executive Director Rosann Mariappuram said most of the young people they work with are afraid of abuse or getting kicked out or in the foster care system.

“The vast majority of youth involve a parent or guardian when they are making a pregnancy decision,” Mariappuram said, “but we work with a population where they have to keep their pregnancies private because of a risk [to their] safety.”

Senate Bill 8, which went into effect Sept. 1, bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. According to researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at UT Austin, about 50% fewer abortions were provided in Texas the first month the law was in effect compared to the year before.

For young people, Mariappuram said, the drop was far steeper: Abortions provided to teens fell by 70% compared to the year before. For those 17 or younger, there was a 90% decrease.

Mariappuram said the tight time limitation has made it nearly impossible for young people; six weeks is long before most people even figure out they're pregnant.

“A lot of youth are past six weeks when they reach out to us for help,” she said.

At that point, one of their only options is to go out of state for the procedure, which Mariapurram said is often not an option. Most of these minors are instead forced to carry out an unwanted pregnancy, she said.

“Traveling out of the state just isn’t an option for so many people,” she said, “but especially for youth who have to keep their pregnancy confidential for their own safety.”

Besides the biological clock Mariappuram and others are running against, there is also the matter of the time it takes to go through the court procedures young people seeking a judicial bypass need to clear.

“The process for a bypass — from when a teen would call our hotline to when they would get their abortion care — used to take two to three weeks,” she said. “We now are trying to do that in a handful of days.”

But that’s, of course, if a teen discovers the pregnancy in time; many do not.

Mariapurram said since the law went into effect, Jane's call volume has plummeted and the number of teens staff can actually help has dwindled. Before SB 8, they helped about 30 teens a month. The first month the law was in effect, she said, they helped “barely a handful” of people.

Since then, there has not been much of an increase in the number of teens they’ve been able to help. Mariappurram said they've been shifting some of their work to handing out free pregnancy tests and emergency contraception. At the end of last year, Jane's saw a threefold increase in the number of requests they got for emergency contraceptives.

“Teens are incredibly thoughtful and are trying so hard not to get pregnant,” she said.

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.