Commentary Abortion

I Help Teenage Girls Get Abortions

Tina Hester

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a sweeping abortion measure, my heart broke for all of “my girls”—Texas minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy through the judicial bypass process.

On Thursday, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a sweeping abortion measure, my heart broke for all of what my Republican uncle in Lubbock calls “my girls.” “My girls” are Texas minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy through the judicial bypass process. For the past six years, I have managed a legal hotline called Jane’s Due Process. Primarily, we help minors from across Texas navigate the obstacle course known as the Texas judicial bypass law—or Chapter 33 cases, as our referral attorneys call them. I personally have assisted more than a thousand minors who have called our 24/7 hotline in search of help to terminate a pregnancy.

I have heard so many stories of abandonment, threats of being kicked out, threats of physical harm or harm to the boyfriends, families breaking up or falling on hard times, and parents with life-threatening diseases. Stories that burn into your psyche and spur bubbling rage when you hear Texas legislators callously decide to make rape or incest victims carry pregnancies to term, or close all but five of the roughly 40 abortion clinics in Texas. Basically, the bill would wipe out all abortion providers west of Interstate 35.

At the bill’s signing, Gov. Perry was praised by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), the sponsor of the anti-abortion bill, known as HB 2. Laubenberg became an overnight sensation when during a debate on the bill she said, “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.” Laubenberg said Perry would be known for “eternity” for his work.

Yet, all I can think about is the here and now—how to set up a transportation line to get minors, as well as all others seeking abortions—to a clinic that will survive the draconian targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

When Gov. Perry signed HB 2, my heart especially broke for one girl and one baby. I picked up a minor this month to get her to court for a judicial bypass case. She is taking care of a baby she had nine months ago, a preemie who spent months in the neonatal unit and needs around-the-clock care. This minor has not left her house for months. She is in constant fear the Medicaid-provided nurses will screw up her baby’s tracheostomy. As is true with so many of my cases, this minor was kicked off Medicaid 90 days after her delivery and thus was not eligible for state-funded family planning services. Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen births in the country and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. This girl had the doubly bad luck to have a dad incarcerated for drug dealing and a mom suffering from schizophrenia. She has no family on which to fall back. She is alone. She would like to graduate from high school and go on to nursing school, but she is scared that being away from her house could allow undue harm to her baby.

As I watched the healthy and prosperous politicians at the bill signing, I couldn’t help but think they live in a parallel universe far different from that of the minors who call our hotline. One in four of our clients is an orphan or orphan de facto. One in five of our clients already has been pregnant at least once, which is not really surprising because Texas’ family planning network has been dismantled, and parental consent is required at many of the clinics that remain open.

It is for those reasons I ask Gov. Perry, Rep. Laubenberg, and anyone else who wants to outlaw abortion: Where are you when desperate folks are in desperate situations? Will you be there to remove the tracheostomy tube and clean the stoma? Will you make sure it is “cleaned out” so my girls can finish their education? Won’t you lavish some of your compassion on my girls?

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

‘I’m Not Slow’: Black Girls Tell Their Experiences of School ‘Pushout’ in New Book

Cynthia Greenlee

If Dr. Monique W. Morris makes anything plain in this book, it's this: Black girls shouldn’t have to rely on their own resilience to stay in school.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

For Black girls, the very schools charged with educating them reinforce and reproduce a dangerous, though often invisible, form of racial and gendered inequality, explains Dr. Monique W. Morris in her new book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.

Among the young girls the reader meets in Pushout, there’s “Mia” (not her real name, as Morris used pseudonyms for all girls interviewed). Mia talked about how a “juvie” teacher assumed that when she asked for other tasks in class, that the girl didn’t complete her work. But Mia told Morris that she had raced through the assignment. Said Mia: “Then I’m like, ‘Can I write or draw?’ Something? I mean, it’s a whole hour to go.’ She was like, ‘No, you can’t do anything. You’re always getting done before the whole class. You know what, get out.’ …. I’m like, ‘Because I do my work, I’m actually trying to do my work now, and now you want me to get out? Hella shit.’”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

What Mia wanted was positive recognition. Instead, she got written up.

Though Morris did not coin the term, the word “pushout” is an intentional reframing of the word “dropout.” It acknowledges that young people leaving school do so for a variety of reasons, many not of their own making. Poverty demands they work. Predatory “boyfriends” induct underage girls into selling sex with promises of love, clothes, and cash. Chaotic schools can make a motivated student dread going to class. LGBTQ teens who don’t conform to gender norms get bullied by peers and labeled “distracting” by adults.

The reasons abound, but each year, millions of U.S. students face expulsion or suspension. According to research from the Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection, seven million of the almost 50 million U.S. students faced in-school or out-of-school suspension in 2011-2012, the most recent year for which data is available. About 130,000 were expelled.

An education scholar and co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, Morris focuses on implicit bias—a term from experimental psychology for the unconscious ideas that influence how we think and interact. Implicit bias can affect when police officers shoot, how managers making hiring decisions, and as Morris demonstrates with devastating clarity, when educators suspend students.

Teachers and administrators often bring racialized and gendered assumptions about what it means to be a “good” girl to the classroom, Morris explains in her book. Notions of appropriate girlhood—nonsexualized though heterosexual, compliant, and quiet—are often the opposite of historical stereotypes that have cast Black girls as sexually precocious, uncooperative, and disrespectful. If a person believes the idea that every Black girl is a Jezebel-in-training or hates school, it’s hard for them to see beyond that.

And, in many cases, affected girls understand this.

Largely absent throughout much of Pushout are Black girls’ parents or guardians. Morris departs from the long tradition of punditry and social science that churns out study after study about what’s “wrong” with this mythical, monolithic, and immutable Black family. It’s a refreshing absence that will make some readers ask about parental involvement. That’s a fair question—but an easy and familiar default that inevitably veers into talk about personal responsibility without taking structural inequality into account.

Interviewing almost 40 pushed-out girls in urban areas, including Mia, Morris uses their own words to assert that Black girls are worth study, attention, and equity in education.

“Shai” from Chicago noted different responses to her and white peers that she calls “little Suzie”: “When little Suzie gets the question wrong, it’s like, ‘Aww, you got the question wrong.’ It’s funny.” In contrast, when Shai made an error, “it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s slow.’ … I get so angry, number one, because I already told them I’m bad at math. Number two, because I’m not slow.”

Girls can be tossed from schools for fighting or so-called “status offenses”—actions such as skipping school that are punishable only for a certain class (in this case, minors).

But pushout occurs all too often when Black girls are labeled unruly. They talk too loud and too often, according to a teacher. Maybe a girl is wearing the “wrong” clothes to school (which might have to do as much with fashion, size, gender identity, or access to the right clothes as a desire to thumb a nose at authority). An authority figure says they have an “attitude.”

On any given day, girls of all races push boundaries on their way to adulthood. But white girls’ behaviors, interviewees said, are seen as temporary actions, not inevitable or part of their identities.

In high school, I too was guilty of these bogus offenses: cursing, wearing my older sisters’ too-grown-for-me clothes, occasionally sassing teachers. On the first day of my senior year of high school, my history teacher stopped me at the door and said, “I know you’re used to getting A’s. But that won’t happen in my class.” In the subsequent yearlong tug of war, I blatantly ignored his lectures—uninspired regurgitations of the textbook—by reading dusty classroom encyclopedias. He’d ask, “Why don’t you listen?” My response: “Why don’t you make it interesting?”

I was a “good kid”: straight A’s and well-rounded, with professional parents and from a neighborhood where more kids were college-bound than not. If I failed, my parents and other teachers at my 99 percent Black high school would cry foul. They expected me to succeed, just as my teacher—who sometimes mused aloud about his dreams to work at a high-performing school—expected me to struggle under his sad, uncreative teaching.

As Morris points out through this book, talking back, simply asking genuine questions, or expecting a teacher to teach can set a girl on a short path to school separation. She could face suspension, expulsion, being moved to an alternative school for troubled youth, house arrest, and even detention or incarceration in juvenile hall (and sometimes adult corrections facilities).

Department of Education statistics from 2011 show that Black girls are six times more likely than white girls to be suspended, even higher than the disparity between Black boys and their white counterparts.

Pushout can have long-term consequences. As Morris points out, many girls struggle to return to school, and others land in the juvenile justice system due to an incident that began in a place of learning. Today, Black girls make up the fastest growing population in the juvenile justice system.

Concerns about Black girls and school discipline have not risen as quickly as the statistics, though groups such as the African American Policy Forum and many Black women scholar-activists are persistently sounding the alarm. Otherwise, it’s a quiet crisis silenced by Akeelah and the Bee logic that Black families don’t value education and are continually falling down on their most important job: raising well-adjusted, healthy children. Or it’s muffled by a comfortable patriarchy that, whenever attention focuses on Black children in education, centers on Black boys like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

While Morris sounds the alarm that Black girls experience different racial and gender biases, she writes compellingly about the persistence of segregation after legal segregation supposedly ended. There are many segregations described in Pushout: the segregation of higher-performing students from those considered at risk in almost every school in the nation; the separation of “troubled” girls in juvenile facilities; and the concentration of Black and brown children in schools with few whites and few resources. Morris’ account raises the question of whether school demographics make a difference in this era of school resegregation. If teachers, administrators, and the broader society is disinterested in schools where students of color predominate, the picture doesn’t look much better for Black girls in majority-white schools.

I should note that Pushout largely focuses on urban girls in cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco. What happens to girls in the rural South? Where there may be one high school in a county, alternative schools are rarely an option; if they are options, they may be in an adjacent county or farther, separating detained youth from their family and support network.

Despite this omission, Pushout pushes us to think about different kinds of personal, professional, and social responsibility. “Implicit bias” may sound like a more benign cousin to racism or “racism light” (and to be clear, implicit bias is not merely about race or gender, and it’s not confined to any one race or ethnicity).

If we accept that implicit bias lies at the root of pushout, how do we root out the bias at the levels of the self, the individual teacher, the school, and the educational and criminal justice systems? In a final addendum to the book, Morris points to two models: positive behavioral intervention systems (an approach that many educational institutions use to modify behavior and increase positive feedback) and restorative justice, which stresses communication and healing between the person who committed an offense and those affected. In the right circumstances, each approach can lead to change.

If Morris makes anything plain, it’s this: Black girls shouldn’t have to rely on their own resilience to stay in school. We need a sophisticated toolbox with multiple programs that doesn’t blame low-performing schools for their problems, that invests in Black girls specifically, and that takes aim at implicit bias.

But that’s easier said than done. We can spot the people wearing Klan hoods at Trump rallies, but implicit bias is a sneakier opponent that looks like and dresses like us.

News Law and Policy

Hearing Reignites Calls of ‘Justice for Sandra Bland’

Kanya D’Almeida

Judge David Hittner announced at the hearing that the trial would start on January 23, 2017, for a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died in police custody under controversial circumstances this past summer.

Dozens of activists in Houston, Texas, packed a federal courthouse Thursday, where Judge David Hittner heard arguments ahead of an official trial for a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died in police custody under controversial circumstances this past summer.

The judge announced at the hearing that the trial would start on January 23, 2017.

Bland had only recently moved to Texas from Chicago to take a position as a college outreach officer at Prairie View A&M University, and was driving home after a campus meeting on July 10 when a state Department of Public Safety trooper, Brian Encinia, pulled her over for allegedly failing to signal a lane change.

A dashcam captured the subsequent interaction between Bland and the officer, which quickly turned hostile and ended with Encinia slamming Bland into the ground while her hands were cuffed behind her back. She was then placed under arrest, allegedly for “assault on a public officer” and taken to the Waller County jail, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, where she reportedly attempted to post the $5,000 bail.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

On Monday, July 13, three days after her arrest, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Bland had been found dead in her cell at nine in the morning, chalking her death up to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.”

Bland’s friends and family have aggressively denied authorities’ attempts to paint her death as a suicide, pointing to the fact that she’d just secured a new job, and never displayed any suicidal tendencies prior to her arrest.

On August 4, amid widespread outrage over what activists labeled the “execution” of a young Black woman in state custody, Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit in a Houston federal court, naming Encinia, the sheriff of Waller County, Texas, two of the jailers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety as defendants.

Protesters who gathered outside the courthouse for the rally on Thursday held signs saying “Justice for Sandra” and “The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth,” echoing demands for transparency and accountability that took social media by storm the summer that Bland died.

Under the hashtags #SandySpeaks and #SayHerName, the latter coined by the African American Policy Forum earlier this year to refer to the long list of Black women who have died at the hands of the police, Twitter users for months have been calling for an investigation into Bland’s death. Rallies and marches held under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement have similarly invoked Bland’s name in their larger calls to end police brutality.

Bland’s name has also appeared alongside the names of Black women and girls like 27-year-old Shelly Frey who was shot and killed by Walmart security in 2012 for suspected shoplifting, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, who was shot dead that same year by an off-duty Chicago detective while she was standing in an alleyway with her friends, and 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killed by a Detroit police officer while she lay sleeping in her grandmother’s home in 2010.

One Huffington Post article identified 15 Black women who’ve lost their lives during encounters with the police in the last 15 years alone.

Bland’s death also inspired the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody hashtag, which amounted to a catalog of “unofficial advance directives” to family members and society as a whole for what to do in the event of a death at the hands of law enforcement personnel.

“That black people feel they must preemptively endorse investigations into their own deaths speaks to both law enforcement’s troubled track record on the issue and the deluge of state violence to which black people have been subjected in the United States over the years,” said Zak Cheney-Rice at Mic.

Texas is notorious for fatal encounters with the police. In the last ten years alone more than 4,200 people have died in police custody, according to an investigation by the Guardian. While the report did not specify how many of these deaths involved Black people, research has shown that Black people are disproportionately incarcerated across the state, and an analysis of government data by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Black drivers in Texas faced the sharpest disparities of any ethnic group when it came to traffic stops and tickets for traffic violations.

Thursday’s hearing on Reed-Veal’s civil case comes as a grand jury in Waller County is nearing a decision on whether criminal charges against anyone are warranted in Bland’s death, according to local news reports.

A medical examiner ruled that she had hanged herself in her cell using a trash bag. Her family initially refuted these claims, but reportedly is now “open” to the possibility of suicide as a cause of deathAccording to an article in Chicago magazine, “The premise of suicide now forms the basis of [Reed-Veal’s] wrongful death lawsuit … [which] claims Bland ‘was exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress and hopelessness,’ including ‘bouts of uncontrollable crying,’ and ‘should have been placed in a mental health high-risk status, provided medical care,’ and not left unobserved ‘for long periods.’”