State’s Teen Pregnancy Booklet Riddled With Anti-Choice Propaganda

Pregnant minors in foster care given medically inaccurate literature

If pregnant teenagers in Texas are hoping to get the facts about their abortion rights from the state, they’re out of luck. A new version of the little-known pamphlet “So, You’re Pregnant, Now What?” is rife with factual errors, inflammatory language, and anti-abortion bias.

Image via Jason Stout

Per statute, the Texas Department of State Health Services booklet is meant to educate teens on judicial bypass – the process by which minors can forgo parental consent and obtain permission for abortion through a judge. The material is also required to provide information relating to alternatives to abortion and health risks associated with the procedure. While an earlier version was mildly problematic, a revised edition – to be finalized in the coming weeks – is blatantly designed to mislead pregnant minors and shame those seeking abortion care.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ state chapter, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Jane’s Due Process, and the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus are among the organizations that have sent concerned letters to the health department pointing out the slew of ideologically motivated errors.

The booklet (read it here) overstates the hazards of abortion, citing death as the first risk, despite the fact that pregnancy is statistically up to 14 times more dangerous than abortion care. (Death is merely the final bullet point in the risks associated with giving birth, and it even includes a caveat allaying readers with its rarity.) It also misleads on the mental health complications post-abortion, overemphasizing thoughts of suicide and depression, a theory wholly debunked by scientific research, and links abortion to lack of fertility and breast cancer, again discredited by leading medical organizations including the National Cancer Institute. If those glaring inaccuracies weren’t enough: Instead of using actual medical terminology, the revised booklet opts to manipulate pregnant teens’ vulnerable emotions by referring to the fetus or embryo as “your baby,” uses “mother” instead of “woman,” and visually depicts the stages of gestation. And according to ACOG, the overall description for medical abortion is inaccurate and reflects outdated FDA guidelines.

“This booklet has been influenced and driven by political ideology, not medicine or science, and we believe that pregnant minors deserve better than this,” writes Alexa Garcia-Ditta, communications and policy initiatives director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Informing pregnant minors in a pamphlet published by the state about risks that are not scientifically supported and are in fact invalidated by scientific research violates the public trust.”

The booklet even fails at its primary objective: educating minors on judicial bypass. During the 2015 legislative sessions, anti-choice lawmakers made the process more difficult for the often abused, neglected minors by throwing up several barriers, including extending when the judge has to rule. The literature doesn’t help elucidate that complicated process: There isn’t a section on minor’s rights, and judicial bypass is buried until more than halfway through the book. It also provides inaccurate legal information about the procedure: It references needing consent from both parents for bypass even though Texas law only requires consent from one parent. (Many of the bypass minors have no relationship with their parents due to abuse, deportation, incarceration, or drug addiction.) Unlike the previous edition, the booklet completely neglects to mention the possibility of gaining that approval from a non-parent legal guardian.

A scan of the booklet's cover

The pamphlet also incorrectly states a bypass application must be filed in the county where the pregnant teen resides, but the reality is that it’s only required if the county has more than 10,000 residents. If the minor lives in a county with fewer than 10,000 residents, she can file in a nearby county or in the county where she will obtain the abortion. While the previous booklet provided links to the application form, the new version doesn’t even offer information on where and how to obtain an application and doesn’t explain there’s no filing charge or fee for an attorney appointed by the judge. It’s almost as though state officials don’t want abortion-seeking minors to figure out the judicial bypass system ….

And even more disturbing, pregnant youth in foster care are handed the ideological and inaccurate booklet by case managers as per state handbook rules. A study released earlier this week by Texans Care for Children found that teens in foster care are five times more likely to become pregnant than others outside of the system. According to 2017 data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 332 foster care girls were pregnant last year, while 218 foster care youths were already parents.

“We are disappointed that a document specifically designed to explain the judicial bypass law to youth in foster care, whose legal relationship with their biological parents is uncertain due to being in the state’s custody, does not mention these important provision of the judicial bypass law,” wrote Tina Hester, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, an Austin-based nonprofit that assists minors with judicial bypass.

If the booklet sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The state health department publishes an equally biased and error-ridden pamphlet titled a “A Woman’s Right to Know,” given to abortion-seeking patients by doctors as mandated by state law. A 2016 Rutgers University study found 48% of the statements about the first trimester were medically inaccurate. Many of the same players criticizing the teen booklet have sounded off on the WRTK pamphlet for years, to deaf ears from the state health department.

After the comments have been reviewed, the updated booklet will be posted online, and stakeholders will be notified through email, said HHSC spokesperson Carrie Williams. The finalized booklet will be posted “as soon as we are able to review and consider all comments received.” While the brief comment period is over, the state health department directs all questions about the booklet to the following email address:

Teens in need of factual information about judicial bypass, consider reaching out to; hotline number: 866/999-5263.

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So, You’re Pregnant, Now What?, NARALA Pro-Choice Texas, Repro Rights, Jane’s Due Process, Tina Hester, Carrie Williams

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