Among the women victimized by the state of Texas’ malevolent new anti-abortion statute, teenagers facing an unwanted pregnancy may possibly be hurt the most.
As explained by Michelle Goldberg, writing for the New York Times, Greg Abbott and his Republican cronies in the Texas state legislature had already made it extremely difficult for young people to terminate a pregnancy, whether it was caused by rape, incest, or any other reason. Now, as a practical matter, and following this month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing that law to go into effect, it’s next to impossible.
In Texas, teenagers who need abortions must get their parents’ consent, but for many young people, that’s not an option. Maybe they’re in foster care, or they’re unaccompanied minors in immigration detention, in which case the government has legal authority over them. Maybe their parents are abusive, or adamantly opposed to abortion.
In their fulsome generosity and concern for women, Texas Republicans provided a narrow loophole for such teenagers: if they could prostrate themselves before a leering, scornful Texas judge and somehow satisfy him or her that they were “mature” enough to make such a decision, the judge may—may!—dispense a waiver magnanimously permitting such a young woman to control her own body.
Did I say “generosity and concern?” I’m sorry, I misspoke. That loophole was only legislated because some Supreme Court in the distant past decreed that parents have no right to force their children to give birth. Since that was before the current abominations that comprise the court’s conservative majority (which now actually includes someone credibly accused of attempting to rape a teenager), who really knows if that’s “still” the law?
But I digress. As Goldberg points out, it doesn’t much matter anymore: Under Texas’ “six-week” law, there isn’t enough time to get a waiver.
Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which the Supreme Court has refused to stay, has all but put an end to judicial bypasses. Even if a girl finds out she’s pregnant the moment a home test can pick it up, getting through the judicial bypass process and the state’s 24-hour waiting period before six weeks of pregnancy is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. As long as the law, known as Senate Bill 8, stands, abortion is going to be unavailable to some of the state’s most vulnerable teenagers. It doesn’t matter, under the law, if they were raped, or if telling their parents they’re pregnant will put them in danger. It doesn’t even matter if their father was the one who impregnated them.
What that means is that any minor who becomes pregnant must get a parent’s permission to terminate the pregnancy, and if the minor can’t do that (for whatever reason), they will be forced to bear the child, even if their period is only two weeks late. Either that or the teenager leaves the state alone, or with someone who’s not afraid of being accosted and sued by one of Texas’ newly deputized “bounty hunters.” And even then it’s not clear when an abortion is available—assuming, of course, that the minor could afford such a trip. As Goldberg points out, for example, if the pregnant teen was an immigrant in a detention center (perhaps impregnated by a Border Patrol officer), they’re pretty much completely out of options:
If pregnant teenagers attempt a judicial bypass, they’re in a race against the clock. Last week, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, insisted that the new law doesn’t harm rape victims because “it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.” His refusal to learn the basics of human reproduction shows just how cavalier he is about the impact of the law he signed. In reality, plenty of women don’t know they’re pregnant at six weeks, around two weeks after a missed period. Pregnancies often aren’t even detectable until around four weeks.
Ever try to schedule an emergency hearing with a busy judge? Ever try to do it when you were fifteen years old? Try to imagine how you’d go about doing that, and it will give you some idea of the impossible situation these teenagers now face. As Goldberg points out, the only thing the judge has to do is schedule a hearing “as soon as possible;” there’s nothing that says it must be held by a particular date. And what if that judge is cut from the same cloth as Brett Kavanaugh? Maybe he’d just blame the person for drinking too much beer.
Assuming they have the wherewithal to find one, a young pregnant person can still find help from some clinics still operating in Texas. (Goldberg cites Jane’s Due Process, described as an organization that assists pregnant teens with obtaining these waivers.) But now such organizations are potentially on the hook for massive lawsuits by “concerned citizens” like Amy Coney Barrett or Clarence Thomas who may be parked outside their gates, watching teenagers as they come and go.
As Goldberg puts it, “There’s an extra dose of cruelty in stripping the young people with the least control over their own lives of control over their bodies as well.” It’s also cruel to those unwanted children who frankly aren’t likely to have great futures, particularly in a state governed by such racist misogynists. Of course, we know what will happen. Many of these kids will still try to terminate their pregnancies. The procedures they turn to will just be unsafe as hell and may not even work.
But we know Republicans won’t care about that. For them, cruelty is always the point, and they think they get bonus points for controlling women in the process.