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A process that allows minors to get an abortion could disappear if Roe falls

Photo taken in Lampung, Indonesia
Photo taken in Lampung, Indonesia

B was at her partner's house one day when she had a gut instinct, a churning feeling inside her body that led her to take a pregnancy test.

"I kind of went robotic and shut everything out, any emotions or anything," she said. "I felt like my whole life was going to go down the drain because that's how society portrays it."

B, who we are referring to by her first initial because she's not ready for her family to know her story, was 17 years old when she found out she was pregnant. It was the end of 2020, during her final year of high school.

"I immediately knew I couldn't take care of it. Abortion was the only choice for me," she said.

So, just hours after finding out she was pregnant, B went online to find a clinic near her that would perform an abortion.

That's when she found out she needed parental consent.

In Texas, where B lives, and in 36 other states in the U.S., minors must inform a parent of their pregnancy and get consent to terminate it. But there is one way around this — it's called "judicial bypass." A minor can appear before a judge and prove they are capable of making the decision on their own.

"I was super scared because whenever you hear the word 'judge' or 'hearing,' it implies that you did something wrong," B said.

Judicial bypass may disappear completely in states with restrictive abortion laws if the Supreme Court's forthcoming Dobbs v. Jackson decision weakens or overturns federal abortion protections that were established under Roe v. Wade.

This would mean minors, who are already one of the most vulnerable groups seeking abortion in the U.S., would have to travel far and wide to seek abortion care.

"Teens can't travel as easily as adults can, especially if they're keeping their pregnancy confidential. They have to explain missing school, missing work, being away from home for a day or two," says Rosann Mariappuram, executive director of Jane's Due Process, an organization that helps teenagers navigate judicial bypass and interstate travel for abortion care.

It's the same organization that helped B seek her judicial bypass.

B was frustrated that she had to endure a complicated court process without much support during an already stressful time, but she was grateful to have an alternative to telling her mother about her pregnancy.

This experience was all too familiar for B because her sister had already given birth while in high school, which deeply affected the relationship between her sister and her mother.

"I had a fear that if I were to tell her I was pregnant, all her judgment and resentment would come crashing down on me."

B was living with her mother at the time, who B said had immigrated to the U.S. for better opportunities for her children. Her daughter having a child before marriage was not a part of that equation.

B found a clinic that would perform an ultrasound to prove that she was pregnant. Texas law also required that the doctor who did the ultrasound would perform the abortion, if she got court approval.

This was all happening during the pandemic, which meant B had to go to appointments without her partner.

"I felt alone because the only person who supported me couldn't be with me," B said.

B got a hearing two weeks after her ultrasound. She said it lasted just 30 minutes, but felt like hours. She felt the judge was questioning her character and ability to make a decision about her own body.

"In a way, they were just trying to change my mind," she said.

B did get approval from the court to get an abortion, but shortly after the hearing, she found out the doctor who had performed her ultrasound had left the clinic. It meant B had to start the judicial bypass process all over again.

By the time she completed it for the second time, it was February 2021. That's when the winter storm Uri hit Texas, shutting down much of the critical infrastructure in the state. This delayed B's procedure yet again.

"I was just super scared, because I knew there was going to be a time limit with my abortion," B said. This was before SB-8, which meant B had up to 20 weeks to get an abortion.

While B faced extenuating circumstances and bad luck, Mariappuram of Jane's Due Process said that her organization's young clients often face delays.

"I would say, honestly, almost every case has something really complicated to it," she said. "And that's just because if you're a young person and you can't tell a parent. That's often because you're already living in other intersections of oppression."

B did finally secure an abortion almost three months into her pregnancy. She said it was difficult, and she felt emotionally numb for weeks after the procedure, but she was ultimately relieved.

Today, B looks back on her experience and is grateful she had the procedure, because it let her have a life she felt she wouldn't have been able to. She lives with her partner now and a dog they recently adopted. She has a job and is saving up to go to college. And, she said: "I plan to have kids in a few years from now, just when I get everything settled and I know that I don't have to struggle with money."

B now worries about other teenagers like her that may not have a path to an abortion in Texas, or in many other parts of the country, if Roe does fall.

"There's no need for me or any teenager to have to jump through these hoops in order to make a decision that's ultimately ours to make," she said.

Mariappuram also worries about winnowing options for teenagers to get the abortion care in the coming months.

"Because minors are often vulnerable in the sense that they can't vote, they often don't have voices at the legislature, it will continue to be that anti-abortion lawmakers try to attack judicial bypass," she said.

Florida has already gone from requiring parental notification for minors seeking an abortion, to requiring consent over the past two years.

"There's a solid effort to continue attacking minors and making judicial bypass harder, even in states where abortion might remain legal," Mariappuram said.

"An entire generation is going to lose a right that the rest of us have enjoyed for 50 years."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.