Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature.
On Friday, a young person going by the name of “Jane” donned a hospital gown, walked into Texas state Rep. Geanie Morrison’s office, and asked for an abortion.
“Jane” could only assume, from the debates held in the state legislature over the past several weeks, that since anti-choice lawmakers apparently believe they’re in the best position to tell Texans whether they can, or should, access legal abortion care, “Jane” would just go straight to the source. In this case, that source was Morrison, a Republican lawmaker from Victoria, Texas who sponsored HB 3994, a bill that would make accessing legal abortion nearly impossible for the most vulnerable Texans—pregnant minors who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents, and who therefore can’t obtain the parental consent necessary to obtain a legal abortion in Texas.
“Jane” was, perhaps unsurprisingly, ushered out quickly by Morrison’s staff, along with eight other similarly dressed reproductive justice activists posing as fellow “Janes,” who had come to the capitol on Friday to protest HB 3994. And so they trudged on to visit the office of pro-choice Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) to thank her for her opposition to HB 3994, before ending with a visit to the governor’s office itself.
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In Texas, there’s a system in place to help teens, in some cases kids, who are pregnant and without parents, or who are pregnant and have been abused by their parents. It’s called judicial bypass, and it allows a pregnant minor—who, for example, might have been kicked out of their home because they are transgender, or who was raped by their father, or whose mother might be absent and struggling with drug addiction—to be able to decide whether or not to continue their pregnancy. A minor, called “Jane Doe” by the court, appears before a judge and tells their story. If a judge feels the minor is mature enough to make that decision, especially if that minor would be in danger if their parents found out about their pregnancy, the judge can stand in for the absent parent in granting consent for the procedure.
Without a bypass, and without parental consent, a minor has no choice but to carry their pregnancy to term. A bypass isn’t a guarantee that a minor will get an abortion, and it doesn’t obligate them to do so. All it does is empower that minor, legally, to seek safe abortion care if that’s what they ultimately decide to do.
Supporters of HB 3994 in the legislature have said that minors in Texas are deliberately deceitful, intentionally inserting themselves into the court system because they want to lie to their loving, caring parents. But there’s no evidence that the judicial bypass process, developed by bipartisan consensus 15 years ago, is being abused by selfish minors.
Instead, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests between 200 and 300 minors per year in Texas cannot safely tell their parents about their pregnancies. We know this, in part, because of the work of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that assists minors in getting judicial bypasses.
The “Jane” activists who visited the capitol on Friday were there to share those stories as part of a grassroots protest called #HereForJaneTX. They carried signs, spare but poignant, that read: “Jane Doe. Age 15. Incarcerated Parent.” “Jane Doe. Age 16. I don’t want to be pregnant.” “Jane Doe. Age 15. Undocumented.” “Jane Doe. Age 13. Incest.”
I followed the “Janes” during their somber protest today; I was also part of the grassroots group that consulted on the action, which was organized in about 24 hours. The quick turnaround was mostly due to the time constraint on the bill itself: Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. on May 31 to pass the law,
The “Janes” drew attention wherever they went, mainly in the form of capitol tourists, mouths agape, staring at their signs. Some passersby said they supported the protest. Others seemed to inch uncomfortably away from the activists in gowns. And the “Janes” even passed an anti-choice lawmaker, Rep. Molly White (R-Belton), who sniped at them as they walked by, saying: “I’m for life.”
The “Janes” are for life too. They’re for the lives of pregnant Texas teens who don’t have the kinds of loving, involved parents we’d hope for them to have, but who deserve the opportunity to take charge of their own futures, anyway.