As Rewire News Group’s resident shopaholic, this is really my season to shine. Few things bring me more joy than making a list of things to get and give. But this holiday season, my number one gift isn’t anything I’ll find under the tree. Instead, this year at the top of my list to Santa—yes, even ahead of a new purse and an emotionally available man with salt-and-pepper hair in his mid-40s—is teen access to abortion.
All I want for Christmas is for every young person in the United States to have the ability to end their pregnancies when and how they want, without stigma, cost, or interference from their parents or the state. Is that so much to ask?
You might be wondering, “Now Caroline, as a materialist shopaholic, what brings that to the top of your list?” Well, it’s simple. For the last decade I’ve been working in the reproductive justice space in some capacity, and since day one, my favorite soapbox to climb on has been “TEENS DESERVE ABORTION ACCESS TOO.”
I say this for a couple reasons. On principle, it’s true—young people should be able to make their own decisions regarding their pregnancies, their abortions, and parenting without any, and I mean any, restrictions from the state. But that’s not the case in over half the country.
In most states, teens have to obtain consent from a parent or notify them before having an abortion. For young people who can’t trust a parent to help them make that decision, they’re forced to go through a judicial bypass process: a court hearing where the minor has to argue before a judge that they’re mature enough to make the abortion decision on their own. And if the judge finds that’s not the case, they then have to rule on whether the abortion is in the minor’s best interest.
If that doesn’t sound dystopian enough, consider that these laws only further harm already marginalized teens. Part of the reason I’m so passionate about teen access is because I grew up in a home where my mom taught me about abortion at a young age without stigma, fearmongering, or derision. I have the kind of mom who told me as soon as I became sexually active that no matter what situation I was in, she would be there to support me. So I knew, if I was ever faced with an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, I would have the ability to have an abortion with her help. I knew that a parental consent law would never make a difference for me, as it won’t for any young person who is lucky enough to grow up like I did with an abortion-supporting parent.
Instead, these laws, which are touted as ways to protect young people, truly do anything but. They might not place any hurdles in the way of people like my family, but for young people living in abusive or unstable environments, parental involvement laws and judicial bypass make life a living hell. They not only add unnecessary logistical hurdles, but they create a humiliating and often traumatizing experience for young people trying to access their right to bodily autonomy.
Think about it: A young person living in foster care, who might be placed in an unfamiliar community, cannot turn to their foster parent or leader at their group home for consent. Now, they have to figure out how to go to court—how to get there, how to afford the transportation, and how to take time off from school to do so. A teen living in an abusive household might have to do all this while keeping it secret from a parent.
And these aren’t just hypotheticals. Earlier this year, the mother of a Louisiana teen sued to stop all judicial bypasses in the state when she found out her daughter was getting one. I’ve also done extensive reporting on the absolute horror show teens in foster care have to go through to access abortion and birth control.
But the second, and incredibly trenchant reason that this key issue tops my Christmas list? Apathy—from both sides of the aisle. Having spent ten years researching and reporting on this topic has unfortunately revealed to me that all too often, so-called progressives and liberals consider teen access to be the third rail of abortion politics. I’ve had people in the movement tell me to not be too loud about it so as to not spook lawmakers; I’ve had so-called progressive legal thinkers parrot anti-abortion talking points to me about 14-year-olds needing parental consent to take Tylenol at school. All of these responses capitulate to the conservative framework that moralizes abortion, and only for the worse.
But abortion is health care. Abortion is a moral good in that it is lifesaving and life-affirming. Abortion is freedom, and what’s a better Christmas gift than that? For all.