Sitting in my car, I went through the mental checklist before my appointment: fill up my gas tank to get to Kansas City, Kansas, from my apartment in Lawrence, ask my co-worker Tim to cover my shift at the bar that afternoon, and reschedule my morning meetings at my second job. I also needed to find my driver’s license, confirm there was still enough money in my checking account to cover the required three appointments, and pack Goldfish crackers that my sister told me would help with the constant nausea.
I was 24, fresh out of college, and the process of getting an abortion felt overwhelming. When I learned that I was pregnant, I knew immediately that I did not want to be. However, the 72-hour waiting period required by law in Kansas and the high volume of patients served by the three remaining abortion clinics in the state forced me to stay pregnant two weeks longer than I wanted to be. Like Texas and other states in the South and Midwest, Kansas makes abortion nearly impossible to get.
My personal abortion experience has strengthened my resolve to ensure that other people can get the care they want.
As the program manager at Jane’s Due Process—which helps Texas teens navigate parental consent laws to get abortion care and birth control confidentially—I now know that I was lucky. I only had to wait two weeks. The youth I serve who live in states with parental involvement laws for abortion have to wait even longer, sometimes even months. The young people we help not only have to face many of the same abortion restrictions I did, but have to get permission from a judge to get their abortion confidentially.
Texas teens also are dealing with the ongoing fallout from SB 8, the state’s extreme abortion ban that has been in effect for 178 days. It shouldn’t be this difficult for anyone to get health care, yet anti-abortion politicians are introducing six-week abortion bans like Texas’ in more and more states. And this summer, the threat of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade looms in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Now more than ever, abortion care needs to be truly accessible for all, especially for youth. Young people should be able to get the health care they need and be trusted to make their own decisions—it’s about their humanity, dignity, and bodily autonomy.
To be clear, Roe has never been enough. Legality alone doesn’t make abortion accessible, and it absolutely doesn’t make it accessible for young people. Mandatory waiting periods that require multiple appointments aren’t unique to Kansas or Texas. Twenty-six states require multiple clinic visits, which can feel like an impossible feat for youth. Between school, sports, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and supporting parents and siblings, the ability to make court and clinic appointments that can last hours is difficult for young people. Throw the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix and many teens aren’t able to leave the house at all. Factor in cost, logistics, time, and the overwhelming stress of being pregnant when you don’t want to be, and you quickly realize how inaccessible abortion really is.
There are a number of reasons why a young person might not be able to involve their parent in their decision to have an abortion—fear of abuse, being forced to continue their pregnancy, or being kicked out of their home. Some of our clients are in foster care or immigrant detention. For those young people, Jane’s Due Process facilitates the judicial bypass process.
A judicial bypass is a court order from a judge allowing someone under 18 to consent to their own health care. The entire process is confidential and the court often refers to the minor as “Jane Doe” for this reason, which is also why we call our clients “Jane.” On average, before Texas’ abortion ban, the judicial bypass process added two to three weeks of delay in seeking confidential abortion care. Now, if a young person does seek our help, we do everything in our power to move them through the process before they hit the six-week mark. But that is impossible for many young people who don’t find out they are pregnant in time.
At JDP, we also support young people in other states with parental involvement laws as they navigate barriers toward abortion access. Of the 38 states that require parental involvement in a young person’s decision to get an abortion, 37 include a judicial bypass process. The judicial bypass is not fair or just by any means—it creates additional, unnecessary healthcare barriers and denies people freedom and agency over their bodies and futures. The youth I have the privilege of serving are resilient and don’t give up even when everything feels stacked against them, and we don’t either.
Abortion restrictions, waiting periods, and parental involvement laws severely impact all young people, but especially those from marginalized and rural communities. The judicial bypass process forces Black and brown youth to seek understanding and compassion from a judicial system that has systematically criminalized them. These young people need reproductive justice—a framework created and defined by Black women in 1994 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.
The process varies widely in each state, and judges have broad discretion in handling these cases. In Florida, which passed a parental involvement law in 2020 identical to Texas’, a judge recently denied a young person’s bypass request based in part on her GPA. In another case, I supported a young woman in Arkansas who lived closer to a Louisiana abortion clinic than the one in her state. But because of a change to the Louisiana law a week prior, she had to travel over 150 miles one way to the Little Rock clinic. After connecting her with a clinic and attorney, it took six weeks to find someone to drive Jane the 150 miles each way. Between this delay and Arkansas’ mandatory 72-hour waiting period, it was almost too late for her to get her abortion in Arkansas. If other states follow Texas’ lead, as many have already started to, that young woman wouldn’t have been able to get her abortion at all. Parental involvement laws, along with the 550+ abortion restrictions that anti-abortion politicians introduced in 2021 alone work together to put care almost entirely out of reach for young people.
I only told two people about my abortion because of the shame I felt, but I refuse to be silent about it any longer. I will unapologetically shout my abortion and support anyone having one. I help young people connect to the right clinic or an attorney and make sure they have funding for their abortion and transportation. But the biggest and most important part of my role is providing emotional support. In this work, it’s essential to allow space for and normalize the complexity and range of emotions someone can experience—stress, fear, anger, sadness, relief, happiness, pride. I FaceTimed one Jane who was nervous before meeting the judge and sent another memes before her meeting to put her at ease. Both got their bypasses granted.
In my work, I’ve had the privilege of hearing hundreds of stories from people of all ages talk about their decision to have an abortion. I believe these experiences—and my own—have made me a better person, stronger advocate, and will ultimately make me a better mother when I’m ready. When I think about the future of abortion access, I envision young people having full reproductive freedom and autonomy over their health care decisions, where each of us, especially young people, can make pregnancy and parenting decisions that are best for our lives. Our government—on a state and federal level must do more to protect abortion beyond Roe. We need to expand access with more clinics and providers and get rid of abortion restrictions, including parental involvement laws, and we must make abortion affordable and available for all who need it.