While the process was implemented in 2016 in Texas to protect teens
from the negative emotional consequences of abortion, it has the
potential to cause emotional harm, researchers report in the Journal
of Adolescent Health.
"These laws are more common than people think, and we've known
little about what the process is like for the adolescents who go
through it," said lead study author Kate Coleman-Minahan of the
University of Colorado in Denver.
In the U.S., 37 states require parental involvement for young women
under age 18 to access abortion care. Under Texas law, the judicial
bypass process allows teens to seek an abortion without parental
consent if they can prove to a judge that they are either mature and
well-informed or that obtaining parental consent is not in their
Since 2016, judges' capacity to deny cases has been expanded, and
the bypass experience is often intensified by other abortion
restrictions such as mandatory sonograms, state-authorized
counseling, mandatory waiting periods, and gestational age limits,
the study authors wrote.
"With these laws, the health and well-being of adolescents is often
overlooked," Coleman-Minahan told Reuters Health by phone.
Coleman-Minahan and colleagues interviewed 20 teens about their
experiences trying to obtain a judicial bypass in Texas. They
partnered with staff at Jane's Due Process, a non-profit
organization in Texas that provides legal representation and
resources for teens facing unintended pregnancies. About 368 minors
sought bypass in Texas in 2015 and 2016, and 294 worked through
Jane's Due Process.
The 20 teens were from different areas of Texas. All but three were
at least 17 years old during the bypass process; the others were 16.
For some, family trauma was the main motivation for seeking bypass.
They often worried about their pregnancy and abortion being
discovered and that it might risk their safety. Others were
concerned about disappointing or damaging relationships with parents
or didn't feel close to a parent at all.
One teen described her father's reaction when he discovered she had
a boyfriend: "The day he found out, he wanted to kick me out of the
house and it was a really, really big conflict so I couldn't imagine
what he would do if I told him, 'You know what? I'm pregnant.'"
The women also feared judgment and shame from others. One teen said
her family is very religious, so if they found out she was pregnant,
they'd shame her. Another said her parents would disown her and
force her to keep the baby.
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"What was most surprising is that many of them felt this process was
something they deserved, which shows the internalization of stigma
that occurs," Coleman-Minahan said. "They've already learned to
rationalize abuse and a general lack of support."
The interviews revealed that the judicial bypass process is
burdensome from a logistical standpoint, often requiring
transportation arrangements on multiple days, meetings with
attorneys and judges during school or work hours, and lying to
parents about where they were. The process also delayed abortion
care from a few days to a few months; for one teen, the process
advanced her past the gestational age limit of her clinic.
The bypass process is also unpredictable because cases are randomly
assigned to a judge, so experiences and outcomes differ vastly, even
in the same courthouse, the study authors wrote. Attorneys weren't
always able to prepare their clients or predict the process
timeline. For many, the emotional burden was traumatic, and they
described going to the courthouse as "nerve-racking" and
"intimidating." They found it difficult to talk to strangers about
their family lives and explain why they couldn't get parental
consent. Several women cried during their interviews for this study
and said they still think about the hearing, even months later.
Three of the young women were denied judicial bypass. One of them
said, during her hearing, "You guys keep telling me I'm not mature
enough to make this decision and I don't know what I'm getting
myself into, yet . . . if I'm not mature enough to make a decision
like this how am I mature enough to even have a baby and to go
through the emotional and physical changes of having a kid?"
Ted Joyce of Baruch College at the City University of New York, who
has studied the judicial bypass process in Arkansas but who wasn't
involved with this study, told Reuters Health, "We need more empathy
toward kids in this situation. This is not a frivolous decision."
"As a father of girls, you'd hate to see your daughters struggling
with something like this," Joyce told Reuters Health by phone. "From
a humanitarian perspective, teens shouldn't have to navigate this
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2OBmLZo Journal of Adolescent Health, online
September 6, 2018.
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