For continuing coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting reproductive health, check out our Special Report.
As the COVID-19 pandemic grips our country and world, elected officials in Texas and across the country are using the crisis to further their anti-abortion agenda. This puts young people in a particularly vulnerable situation.
I am the client services manager at Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that helps young people navigate parental consent laws to access birth control and abortion care in Texas. We refer to the teens we serve as “Jane” to protect their anonymity. Over the last few weeks, our volunteers and I have witnessed countless examples of Janes trying to navigate our new reality in Texas, where our governor and attorney general have exploited the COVID-19 crisis to ban abortion in our state.
One Jane, who is already a parent with a toddler, said she cannot risk contracting COVID-19 to leave the state for abortion care. Instead, Jane is choosing to wait for the Texas abortion ban to lift—a decision the courts could make in the coming weeks. Another Jane told me that her grandmother, who is also her caretaker and immunocompromised because of her age, isn’t able to travel with Jane as she gets her abortion out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Therefore, like some other young pregnant people in the state, she is planning to wait out the abortion ban.
From local stay-at-home orders to Texas’ abortion ban, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the challenging barriers to abortion care that young people in Texas already face. Texas is one of 37 states with parental consent laws on abortion. Our state requires teens to obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian before getting an abortion. If a teen cannot obtain parental consent, they must go through the judicial bypass process, which involves appearing before a judge to get special permission to obtain abortion care.
Additionally, young people often have to travel long distances, miss school or work, and cover costs out of pocket. Fortunately, the National Abortion Federation is now covering the financial costs for Janes who go through the judicial bypass process.
While judges may currently hold hearings via teleconference for judicial bypass cases as part of special court rules during COVID-19, even if a Jane’s bypass case is approved, Texas’ ban on abortion has closed clinics across the state. Due to anti-abortion politicians using a public health crisis to ban abortion, young people in Texas are left with limited options.
While we hope that young people have supportive parents they can rely on when seeking an abortion, that’s not always the case. Many of the young people we work with would be kicked out of the home if their parents discovered they were pregnant. Others are part of the foster care system or are unaccompanied minors in immigration detention facilities, so the law inherently forces them to go through the judicial bypass process.
These barriers could prove to be too much for anyone, but for young people—especially in the midst of a pandemic—they can put care entirely out of reach. Unlike most adults, young people have little freedom of movement and privacy. Before COVID-19, young people could use the excuse of school hours or after-school events to get to the multiple doctors’ appointments Texas requires for an abortion. Now, school is canceled or virtual, and with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, they may not be able to leave their home at all. And like many adults seeking abortion care, young people would prefer to get their abortions earlier in pregnancy if possible—the further along in pregnancy, the more costly their care and the more restrictions imposed by the state. But with more time at home with potentially controlling parents watching over their phone activity, young people may not even be able to seek out their full range of pregnancy options. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a delay of days or weeks can be the difference between a Jane exercising her reproductive rights or being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
Jane’s Due Process was founded to help teens navigate all of these steps, so we see every single day how challenging these barriers are. Our 24/7 hotline is a lifeline for so many young people right now. Teens can call or text Jane’s Due Process at 866-999-5263 and we’ll help them figure out how to get the care they need.
We are here so that young people have someone to guide them through the legal system when they have nowhere else to turn. As a case manager for all our Janes, I hear firsthand the obstacles they face, and I’m unable to see how these cruel actions could possibly be “pro-life” or how exploiting a pandemic to ban abortion benefits public health. Health-care providers agree that abortion is a time-sensitive and essential medical service that everyone should be able to access once they have made the decision to do so.
What we need from our state leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic is compassion for all pregnant people in Texas. We need expanded access to health care. We need resources so that people can care for themselves and their families. Now is not the time for Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton to play politics with our lives and futures.