At Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week, there was a decent amount of talk about abortion; Judge Barrett has made no secret of her animus toward reproductive freedom.
In 2006 she signed onto an ad from a far-right group that called abortion “barbaric” and called for the prosecution of abortion providers. At the hearings, Democratic senators spent a lot of time trying to squeeze Barrett’s views out of her, but she mostly sidestepped the issue except for a few moments—like calling later abortions “late-term abortions” and coincidentally using a 20-week abortion ban as one of her examples of cases where a plaintiff might not have standing before the Court.
But on the final day of hearings on Thursday, something incredible happened. Historic, in fact. Crystal Good, a writer, poet, small business owner, and mother of three in West Virginia, shared her abortion story virtually with the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of witness testimony. It was the first time anyone has shared their abortion story with the committee in connection with a Supreme Court nomination, and it was powerful.
“Who I am today is only possible because, at 16 years old, I had access to an abortion,” Good said, before going on to explain how the parental consent law in her state adversely impacted her access to abortion. Good’s stepfather sexually abused her from the time she was 5 to age 15, and when she was 16 she had an unintended pregnancy while in a relationship that she said “brought me joy and made me feel safe.”
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“Immediately, I knew that I wanted an abortion,” she said.
“For many reasons, I couldn’t tell my mother,” she said. “She had not believed me about my stepfather’s abuse and then failed to do anything once she did finally believe me. I also knew that although she had me—a Black child—there might be consequences for my boyfriend who was Black. My white family had always tried to convince me to try and pass for white.”
So she sought a judicial bypass—an alternative to parental involvement, allowing a minor to go before a judge to argue that they’re mature enough to make the abortion decision on their own. If the judge deems them insufficiently mature, they then have to consider if it would be in the minor’s best interest to have an abortion. (And if you’re wondering in what world a minor is not mature enough to have an abortion but is mature enough to have a baby, you are not alone. It’s as backward and ridiculous as it sounds.)
“My journey to seek an abortion started first with making sure I had my homework done,” Good said. “I then had to navigate not only how to get to the judge but how to do so on a school day. I had no idea what I should wear or what information he would want. I thought I was going to court like on TV, but was ushered to his chambers instead. I remember his chambers being dark, with lots of books. He, of course, was wearing his black robe. It felt very intimidating.” She went on to talk about how the hearing went: how she had to prove she was worthy of making her own decision.
“I told him I was a good student,” Good said. “I was a leader at my school. I had opportunities that many young women from West Virginia didn’t. I wanted to go to college, to be a writer. I said, your Honor, I have a future.”
The judge granted her the bypass, and she went on to have her abortion.
Parental involvement laws like the one Good was up against exist in 37 states—they are among the most common abortion restrictions and enjoy support from both liberal and conservative legislators and voters. If abortion is the third rail of liberal politics, parental involvement laws are the third rail of that third rail, and that’s what makes Good’s testimony so striking and refreshing, especially at such a visible and high-level hearing as a Supreme Court nomination.
While the judicial bypass process was intended as an alternative to parental involvement, in reality, it’s just another unnecessary and arduous hurdle; Good’s experience feeling overwhelmed and intimidated is a common one.
These laws most adversely affect marginalized young people: those living with abuse or financial instability or any number of factors that might make disclosing an unwanted pregnancy to a parent unsafe or impossible. They fail to account for the many young people who live outside of the care of their parents; those living in foster care or with relatives are largely relegated to the bypass process, which can delay access to abortion by about two weeks (something extra shitty, when you consider most young people understandably detect their pregnancies later).
As Good pointed out in her testimony, most young people do involve a parent in their abortion decision. “But for those like me who cannot,” she said, “these kinds of restrictions make abortion hard to get because we have to travel, miss work or school, save up for weeks, and pay out of pocket.”
“I still think about what might have happened if I didn’t have that list of accomplishments, or if the judge didn’t think I was competent enough to decide when to start my family, or if he believed the harmful stereotype I was raised to believe—that Black girls were ‘fast’ and promiscuous,” Good said. “Access to abortion should not depend on our GPA, the color of our skin, where we live, or the luck of the draw. It should not depend in any shape, form, or fashion on who our governor is or who is sitting on the Supreme Court.”
“I needed compassion and trust from my government,” she said. “All I got was another barrier.”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett will soon likely be Justice Amy Coney Barrett—her confirmation is moving ahead (the committee is voting October 22 before a full Senate vote), and she’ll eventually sit on the highest court in the land, poised to undo decades of progress for reproductive freedom.
But on Thursday, Good’s testimony made history—both because she gave a voice and a face to the millions of people who have abortions and because she spoke to a facet of abortion care woefully underrepresented in even progressive circles. That’s pretty damn great, and even with everything else seemingly going wrong, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate.