Teens Seeking Judicial Bypass Abortion in Texas Shamed
New study finds court process functions as "form of punishment"
A new study finds that judicial bypass, the court process by which minors seek permission from a judge to obtain an abortion without parental consent, acts as a "form of punishment" for young Texas teens. Judicial bypass minors – often estranged from their parents, suffering family trauma, or coming from households with substance abuse – already see logistical barriers like transportation and time off from school. In 2016, anti-choice state lawmakers made the process additionally onerous by making it easier for judges to deny requests, and harder for minors to obtain a bypass farther from home. Researchers found the law has resulted in "humiliating" and "unpredictable" hurdles.
The report, published this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is based on interviews with 20 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 19 about their experiences trying to obtain a bypass. Teens faced intimidation and shame from court-appointed guardians and judges, who failed to conceal their personal disapproval of abortion and premarital sex. In one case, a young woman was asked for a detailed sexual history and forced to answer in open court, while another says her guardian told her "it's never the right option to have an abortion" and brought adoption agency staff to court, thus violating the minor's anonymity. In four cases, the guardian appointed by the judge was a church pastor or deacon. For some, the entire process felt like punishment for having sex and getting pregnant. Perhaps most troubling, many of the young women "internalized the stigma" and felt the humiliating process was something they deserved. Multiple study participants cried during interviews when describing their court hearings, and have experienced long-term trauma.
"Proponents of parental involvement and bypass laws claim they protect adolescents from alleged negative emotional consequences of abortion, yet our results suggest the bypass process itself causes emotional harm through unpredictability, humiliation, and shame," said lead author Kate Coleman-Minahan, assistant professor at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. She's joined by UT-Austin-based Texas Policy Evaluation Project's Amanda Jean Stevenson, UT's Emily Obront, and local judicial bypass attorney Susan Hays. It's the first study to describe adolescents' experiences with judicial bypass.