Veronika Granado anxiously stood before the judge knowing that if she said something wrong, things could end badly for her.
But the 17-year-old hadn’t committed a crime. She had not filed a lawsuit. Granado was in a Texas court that day to ask permission to get an abortion.
She was among thousands of teens burdened with additional hurdles to legal abortion care, especially if they are of color or live in states where abortion access is already severely limited. Thirty-eight states require some form of parental consent or notice for anyone under 18 to get an abortion. Of those, nearly all including Texas, offer an alternative: pleading with a judge for permission to bypass that consent.
But the latest restrictions in Texas that essentially ban abortion past the six-week pregnancy mark have made such requests almost impossible; the process to go before a judge includes a required sonogram and setting a hearing can take weeks. By then, women are often past the six-week mark. And as other states capitalize on the success of the Texas law and set their own restrictions, those few avenues are getting shut off.
Supporters of parental-consent laws say parents should have a say in the medical procedure. But teens seeking abortions often face abuse or threats of homelessness if they tell their parents or guardians they are pregnant, said Rosann Mariappuram, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, the nation’s first organization dedicated to helping youths navigate the process of going through a judge, and one of only a few nationwide. They work with about 350 women a year in Texas. Roughly 10% are in foster care and 80% percent are youths of color.
Most are past six weeks when they first come in. Young girls who have only had their period for a few years are not likely to track it. Athletes tend to have irregular periods. And sometimes when girls go on birth control, they experience spotting, which they may confuse for a period. All of these factors often lead to minors — and adults, too — to miss early signs of pregnancy.
Kenzie Reynolds was 17 and a high-school junior when she found out she was pregnant. Her relationship was toxic and deeply controlling, and she couldn’t tell her family about being pregnant or wanting to get an abortion because they are devout Christians and opposed to the procedure, she said. She’d tried before to tell her mother she wanted to be on birth control, but her mom consistently avoided the conversation.
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She found Jane’s Due Process, but it would be four weeks before she could even see a judge to make her case.
“The worst part of the entire thing was how terrible I felt and how isolated I felt,” she said.
A month later, she stood before the judge and told him about her toxic relationship, her desperation and terror.
But the judge denied the request.
“He walked by me like I wasn’t even there,” she said. “I felt like he didn’t see me as a person.”
While she could have appealed, she was 10 weeks along at that point, too late to take an abortion pill, and the appeal was still uncertain. Instead, she connected with the group Lilith Fund for a flight to New Mexico where she got the procedure, and flew back the same day.
“At the end of all it, I realized I was considered too young to have an abortion, but old enough to raise a child,” said Reynolds, who shared her story through WeTestify, a group dedicated to representing people who have had abortions. Now 21, Reynolds was eventually able to break free of her relationship, something she might not have been able to do if they shared a child, and go to college.
Already, calls to the group have plummeted, while requests for the birth control services they provide have tripled, said Mariappuram.
Each state has its own rules governing how teenagers can bypass consent through a judge. Fifteen require judges to use standard of “clear and convincing evidence” to determine whether a teen is mature and that the abortion is in their best interest, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for reproductive rights. Some states require judges to make a decision within 48 hours, while others get several days.
Judges have full discretion to make a decision and they can ask pretty much anything they want, she said. Sometimes they ask invasive questions like the number of sexual partners, Mariappuram said.
“We argue that every time you send someone to court for this, it’s traumatic because you’re basically making them think they broke the law,” she said.
A few states are reconsidering their policies. Massachusetts lowered its age for required parental consent last year to 16. In Illinois, lawmakers who support abortion rights are pushing to repeal a parental notification law in order to ensure people have access to safe abortion services.
On the other hand, Cathi Herrod, president of Center for Arizona Policy, which advocates for abortion restrictions, said abortion is a life-changing medical procedure that parents should have a say in. While she opposes the option to bypass consent, she says courts have repeatedly upheld it.
“Parents should not be denied the ability to oversee that decision by their daughter,” Herrod said. “A young girl deserves the guidance of their parents in making this decision.”
Making the decision to end the unplanned pregnancy wasn’t the difficult part for Granado, whose own mother had birthed her at 17. She knew how trying being a teen mom would be. She yearned to be the first in her family to graduate from college.
But she feared her mom would kick her out if she found out about her pregnancy and decision to get an abortion. She stumbled upon Jane’s Due Process while researching her options, met with an attorney, got the required sonogram and a court date.
Granado was the first of four people to arrive at a small room in a courthouse in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She stood directly in front of the judge, an older Hispanic man, who wanted to know why her parents couldn’t be involved, why she couldn’t raise this child and what her future plans were.
“Basically my life was in the hands of this judge,” Granado said.
He told her his religion frowned upon abortion, but he had to be impartial as a judge.
He granted the request. A week and a half later, she ended the pregnancy.