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Last September, a late-night text message came to Right By You, a Missouri text line that helps young people understand their rights related to abortion, birth control, birth, parenting, and adoption and connects them to resources that support their decisions. The single line read, “I am pregnant and not sure what to do.”
The good news is, we do. We work at abortion-access support lines in Missouri and Texas to provide young people with a judgment-free, supportive space in which to talk and receive accurate information about their reproductive rights. Even though abortion is legal in all 50 states, abortion access is not a reality for far too many, especially young people. Missouri and Texas are two of the 37 states that require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to get an abortion.
As hard as it already is to access abortion care, young people, people who don’t have a lot of money, and people of color must work twice as hard to get past the obstacles that push abortion further out of reach, even while abortion is still legal. Here’s how we step in to help young people get past those barriers.
Supporting young people
In Missouri, volunteers operate Right By You (RBY) five days a week.
Like Jane’s Due Process in Texas, RBY offers a compassionate, nonjudgmental space for young people to talk through their options, challenges, and feelings that come along with navigating a fraught reproductive health landscape. Volunteers are trained to provide emotional support and a clear plan of action with potential solutions for young people navigating their pregnancy options, as well as information about abortion access in Missouri and surrounding states with parental involvement laws. Organizations like ours in states that have severely limited abortion access provide a model for offering these services in an increasingly hostile environment.
When RBY got that text last September, from a young person whom we will call Jane, we moved quickly, helping her schedule multiple clinic appointments and connecting her with a lawyer to help with the judicial bypass process—a court order from a judge allowing someone under 18 to obtain an abortion in situations where the young person cannot involve a parent in their decision. Yet from the time 16-year-old Jane sent her initial text to the time she was able to get her abortion, seven weeks had elapsed.
Seven weeks is a tremendous delay, but in the end, Jane was able to access the abortion care she needed. Had Jane been in Texas—where Graci leads programming for Jane’s Due Process, a 24/7 hotline and text line—seven weeks isn’t a delay. It’s a denial.
Texas SB 8, the near-total abortion ban that’s been in effect since September, has eliminated clinic-based abortion care past the detection of embryonic cardiac activity, around six weeks’ gestation. At Jane’s Due Process, we provide one-on-one support to help Texas teens, as well as teens in other states without organizations to support them during the judicial bypass process, navigate parental consent laws to get confidential abortion care. JDP, like Right By You, work to address these barriers by providing emotional and logistical support, financial assistance, legal representation, and more.
Graci recently helped a young person in Florida who was scared about going to the courthouse for a judicial bypass on her own and needed help finding an abortion clinic. Graci connected her with an attorney, found the nearest clinic where she could make an appointment, and answered all her questions along the way. After working with JDP to come up with a plan of action, the young person said, “Thank you so much. I was running out of hope, without you I wouldn’t be able to get through this.”
Infrastructure that isn’t set up for young people
Since 2011, anti-abortion politicians have passed more than 550 abortion restrictions, with the goal to make getting an abortion impossible. Abortion bans and restrictions are designed to hurt people who are working to make ends meet, and they fall hardest on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well as LGBTQ people, young people, and low-income folks. What’s more traumatizing is how the judicial bypass process forces Black and brown youth to seek understanding and compassion from a judicial system that has systematically criminalized them.
Additionally, clinic operations and the legal requirements of judicial bypass aren’t set up for young people. Young people balancing work, school, household duties, sports, volunteering, and other extracurricular activities have little control over their schedules, and they also often lack privacy. This was exactly what Jane, RBY’s client, faced:
I actually had a few challenges along the way. Whenever I would go sign papers for the lawyer, I had to make excuses to my mom about my whereabouts. It was tough to find a private place to have the Zoom meeting, but I ended up doing it in the parking lot of my school in my boyfriend’s car. My schedule was the most challenging thing, with sports, work, and school.
Unfortunately, the experiences these Janes faced aren’t unique. These young people need reproductive justice, a framework created and defined by Black women in 1994 that defines it as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” And if the state is going to deny women of color their right to reproductive justice, we’re going to make sure we do everything we can to protect young people’s access.
Young people can’t wait—there are 4.3 million people under the age of 19 who are uninsured and have no access to health care. With the potential of Roe v. Wade falling, advocates and abortion funds in states where abortion is outlawed entirely will need to craft special strategies for helping teens get abortion care, which is already becoming increasingly inaccessible under growing restrictions. As states enact more prohibitive laws or try to ban abortion outright, Jane’s Due Process and Right By You will keep supporting young people through these challenges by helping them navigate the judicial bypass process, providing emotional support, and giving them unbiased information about all their reproductive options.
Access to abortion is not just about legality. It is about our dignity, our humanity, and our freedom. Abortion care must be available to anyone who needs it, wherever they live, whoever they are, and whatever their age—and we will do what it takes to safeguard access to abortion care for everyone who needs it.
We must ensure that young people aren’t left without options or resources. Proactive programs and approaches are needed to help them navigate hostile legislation and increasing restrictions, as well as to address the growing disparities in sex education and abortion access. Young people must be able to obtain dignified, compassionate care, and JDP and RBY must continue innovating to support young people in living autonomous reproductive lives.
Advocates like us know that young people deserve support, not shame, for their decisions about sex, and that pregnancy is not a punishment for pleasure. We should center young people’s voices, pay them to lead this work, and celebrate them for their resilience. As more and more abortion bans are introduced, we won’t stop connecting young people to abortion care—and to demand and fight for abortion access for all the young people we serve.