Commentary Abortion

Texas Legislators Are Putting Pregnant Teens in Harm’s Way

Emily Rooke-Ley

If HB 3994 passes through the senate, Texas’ parental consent law will be even stricter than it is already, forcing minors who cannot obtain permission to navigate a slew of complicated, humiliating, and sometimes impossible hurdles to receive reproductive health care.

I remember my first time answering the hotline for Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas. Holding back tears, I listened anxiously to a young woman, whom I will call Gaby, explain her home life and her pregnancy, asking me to help her obtain a judicial bypass, which would allow her to obtain an abortion without a parent or guardian’s consent. She was just as mature as I am—probably more. “Well the thing is,” she said to me, her voice exuding a kind of tough conviction, “I just can’t bring a baby into this world right now.” 

Sadly, some Texas legislators think this is not Gaby’s decision to make. If HB 3994 passes through the senate, Texas’ parental consent law will be even stricter than it is already, forcing minors who cannot obtain permission to navigate a slew of complicated, humiliating, and sometimes impossible hurdles to receive reproductive health care.

Parental notification laws presume that young women like Gaby are incapable of making their own pregnancy decisions and must defer to a parent—even if doing so is logistically impossible or downright dangerous.

Gaby’s story, a composite of the stories I often hear through the hotline, is just one example of whom this bill affects—and why, really, parental consent requirements just makes no sense.

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Gaby grew up without a father. To this day, at age 16, she has no idea where he might be, or if he even knows she exists. Gaby generously articulated that her mother “tries”; she is addicted to methamphetamine, which causes her to be uninvolved at best, and emotionally and physically abusive at worst. Gaby has four younger siblings, all of whom live under one roof in a small, two-bedroom apartment. She attends high school, works at a fast-food restaurant, and takes care of her younger siblings, making sure there is always enough food for everyone—especially when her mother disappears periodically or is too high to function. Gaby is in a committed relationship with her boyfriend, who helps her with her younger siblings and her mother. When she discovered she was pregnant, her boyfriend reacted as all partners should—with a promise of support regardless of her pregnancy decision. 

Gaby immediately knew that she did not want to continue her pregnancy. “On top of the fact that I actually just have no way of raising a baby right now,” she told me, “I really just really don’t want one. I need to finish school and get out of here.” When I asked her if she thought her mom would agree to consent to an abortion, she laughed a sort of sad and bitter chuckle: “Ha. My mom can’t even get up in the morning to give my 4-year-old brother cereal. You think she’s going to drive two hours to the abortion clinic and sign papers for me? Not a chance. She’d just use this as a good excuse to kick me out—one less mouth to feed.” 

Thanks to the judicial bypass law currently in place, Gaby was able to receive the help she needed. But HB 3994, which is now awaiting a senate hearing, will make the judicial bypass safety net inaccessible for most pregnant teens in Texas, effectively banning abortion for this population.

Ostensibly, the purpose of parental consent laws is to ensure that stable adult figures are involved in the important decisions in their children’s lives. As Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), the author of HB 3994 stated on the house floor, “It would be traumatic for a teen to have an abortion without her parents there.” This may be true for some. I know that when I had an abortion at age 20, I wished that my mom could have been there. But I am not Gaby, and my mom is not Gaby’s mom.

This kind of presumptuous and utopian rhetoric from politicians such as Rep. Morrison is exactly what prohibits other legislators and the general public from having a realistic understanding of whom these laws impact. Not all teens have a supportive and stable parent—or even a parent at all. This rhetoric is so misleading precisely because it is disingenuous; these politicians are not actually concerned with the lives of pregnant teens. Instead, they are on a crusade to stop abortions, even when the decision to end the pregnancy is agreeably pragmatic and reasonable. At the very least, politicians should not justify their intrusion into these girls’ lives under the guise of sincere empathy.

It is a new low for anti-choice legislators to insert themselves so callously into the complicated and unique lives of each of these young women. Those who voted for HB 3994, most without engaging in meaningful conversation with opponents of the bill, cannot possibly understand the circumstances that exist within this vulnerable population or the grave dangers to which they are exposing these young women.

After a long night at the capitol listening to a one-sided debate on the house floor, I returned to answering the Jane’s Due Process hotline as usual. A 17-year-old was calling, in tears, from the bathroom stall at her high school. Her mother had just died and her father was in prison. She needed an abortion, as she put it. Come January 1, 2016, if the bill is signed into law, I will have to tell people in her situation, “That may not be an option.”

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