Tina: Jane’s Due Process was formed after the state legislature passed a parental consent law for minors to obtain abortions. So Jane’s Due Process provides minors with access to judicial by-pass of parental consent if they’re unable to find or consult with their parents about their decision to have an abortion. In Texas you have to be 18 to be considered emancipated and make the decision to have an abortion. However, minors can go to health clinics and obtain substance abuse counseling, STD testing, family planning counseling, and birth control without their parents being notified.
K: Sounds like a great organization, Tina. What role do you play there?
T: I am the part-time hot-line coordinator. I answer the phones and screen the minors and talk to them about the judicial by-pass process and recruit mostly law students to answer the phone on the weekends and in the evenings. Although to volunteer, you don’t have to be a law student, you can be social worker or a lawyer, although really you just have to have an interest and be able to be non-judgmental with the youth. The volunteers go through a day-long training before they answer the phones.
K: And how to minors hear about Jane’s Due Process?
T: About 60% of the minors hear about us from the clinics. They call the clinics and try to make an appointment for an abortion and find out they can’t without their parent’s permission, and the clinics tell them about us. Others find us from the Internet.
K: Where do pregnant girls need to go to get a judicial by-pass of parental consent?
T: Well, the go to a judge. But they don’t have to go to a judge in the county where they live, but rather the county where they will be getting the abortion. In fact, there are some counties that don’t provide the bypass paperwork.
K: Why would a county not provide the paperwork?
T: Some judges are afraid of providing a bypass because of political repercussions. Others are just unfamiliar with the process because they don’t have a large population and so it doesn’t come up that often. But it’s a real problem for girls in rural areas because (1) there’s not an abortion provider in the county in which they reside and (2) they have to go to a different county to even get the judicial by-pass. So once again, the rural women have the hardest time getting access to the services they need.
K: Are the girls who call you generally still in the process of making the decision of whether or not to have an abortion, or do they generally already have their minds made up?
T: It varies between callers. Some calls I get from minors, I feel like they’re being coerced into having an abortion. Sometimes the call is not even from the girl, it’s from her boyfriend. I tell the boyfriends that they have to have their girlfriends call me. So then I ask her a series of questions to be clear that it’s her who wants the abortion. Sometimes they say “But my mom or my boyfriend is trying to make me have it.” And so I tell them to tell the clinic that, because there are no clinics that would perform an abortion on someone who didn’t want one. Some girls call and say they want to have an abortion, but their mom wants them to have the baby so they, the mother, can raise another baby. There are lots of sad cases like that, where the mother is not really thinking about the needs of her daughter.
K: What about young teenagers? What are the potential legal ramifications for a pregnant younger teenager?
T: Well, you have to be older than 14 to provide consent to have sex, so if they’re under 14, the clinic is required to report minors under 14 who are pregnant. I usually don’t ask the age of the boyfriends when they call in, because by-and-large I’m just the first stop in a process where they have to have the counseling, they have to understand the risk of the procedure, and they have to know all of their options. The minor also has to have had a sonogram and an options counseling session before she can have an abortion. There are a couple of counties that will let you get by with a blood test, but a sonogram is better because it can pinpoint the gestational age. Once they have all of these things then, I will assign a lawyer to them.
K: Why is gestational age important to pinpoint?
T: At 13 – 14 weeks, they generally have to do a two-day procedure. They have to soften up your cervix. So that’s why it’s always best to have an abortion as soon as possible so you don’t get into that two-day procedure process. The cost and the risk are both substantially less the earlier you have it.
K: Wow, a two-day procedure! That sounds expensive. So talk with me about cost for a minute here. How much does an abortion cost in Texas?
T: Some clinics around the state will waive the fee for clients who come through Jane’s Due Process. But generally the cost of the sonogram is about $100, and that is often put towards the price of the abortion, so you want to go ahead and have the sonogram at the same place you’re going to have the procedure. An abortion procedure costs between $300 and $500 before 11 weeks. As a minor, they can sometimes get financial support for the procedure.
K: Wow, that’s really pricey. I’m somewhat overwhelmed at the process for getting an abortion, and I’m not even a teenager in a difficult situation! Thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge, Tina. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Anything that strikes you as particularly interesting?
T: Sometimes I ask the minors who call Jane’s Due Process “Who else have you spoken to about your pregnancy” and they’ll often say “the father of the baby” not “my boyfriend.” And I want to say “hopefully it’s more than that” but often it’s not, it’s just someone they’ve hooked up with.
Another thing – I think as Texas becomes more Hispanic, we’re going to get more phone calls from Hispanic minors. And I’ve had lots of Hispanics call who say they’re going to be shipped back to Mexico, or Asian minors call and say they’re going to be shipped back to the Philippines if their parents find out they’re pregnant. Whereas in my day (I’m 50), girls would mysteriously go live with their aunts in New York, and nobody knew what they were doing. But now I know they were going up to New York to have an abortion. So in many ways it’s easier for the minors now, because they don’t have to go somewhere else, but this judicial by-pass makes it difficult in a different way.
And one last point – One other kind of call I get are from minors who want to be emancipated from their parents. But Texas makes it very difficult unless you can prove child abuse or that she is financially self-sufficient. Even if a teenage girl has a baby, her parents still have legal guardianship over her. So the minor can make medical decisions for her baby, but her parent gets to make them for her.