In post-Roe Texas, pregnant teens have few options

According to the CDC, Texas leads the nation with the highest rate of “repeat teen births” – a pregnant teen who already had at least one other child.

By Kayla Padilla, Texas Public RadioNovember 29, 2023 10:37 am, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

This report is part of the TPR series Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Evading the Texas Abortion Ban.

Texas leads the nation with the highest rate of repeat teen births, according to the CDC.

Repeat teen births refers to a second (or more) pregnancy before the age of 20.

Since abortion was virtually outlawed in Texas, pregnant teens have few options.

Teens are relying on abortion funds and online platforms to get the care and information they need.

Irma Garcia is the client services manager at Jane’s Due Process. She said that since the fall of Roe, they’ve received a surge in calls from Texas teens who are scared and confused.

“A lot of folks believe that abortion is illegal all across the country versus just in Texas,” she said.

Jane’s Due Process works to help minors travel to other states where abortion is still legal. They also help cover the cost of transportation, hotels, and the abortion itself.

Garcia describes Texas as a “landscape of inaccessibility.” She said even when abortion was legal, many people didn’t have the resources to access one.

“Because if you cannot access it, then you don’t technically have the choice to have an abortion,” Garcia said.

One San Antonio woman shared her teen pregnancy story with TPR. We’ll refrain from using her real name for privacy reasons, but we can call her Morgan. Right now, she’s in her 30s.

When she was 14, Morgan’s grandmother drove her from San Antonio to Mexico to get the abortion procedure. At the time, her grandmother was concerned that if she received abortion care in the United States, it would remain on her medical records as a preexisting condition for health insurance and complicate life down the line.

Morgan said they paid a Mexican clinic a hefty price in cash. The experience was difficult.

“It was incredibly painful because they did not give me any type of anesthetic or relaxer. I just remember this burning pain the entire time,” she said.

After the procedure, she picked up pain medication at a Mexican pharmacy and made her way back to San Antonio.

Morgan later faced complications. There was an infection in her uterus that spread to her left ovary.

She only discovered this when she had a miscarriage at 19. But by that time, she didn’t have the time or money to investigate further.

“I ended up being homeless here in San Antonio. Like survival became the priority vs. trying to figure out what’s going on with my uterus,” she said.

Morgan got pregnant again at 21. This time, her doctor gave her the option to continue her pregnancy or terminate it. He warned her it would be challenging, but she went ahead with it anyway. She spent most of her pregnancy in the hospital.

“My body went into shock several times. It was just like one thing after another. And thank God I had the most healthy, crazy son there is now,” she said.

Morgan hoped her body would “reset” after having her son, but the health complications continued. So she decided to have a hysterectomy in 2020 at the recommendation of her doctor.

“There was already rumbling of women’s rights in healthcare. He was worried that if we didn’t do the hysterectomy when we did, that Texas may not allow me because of my age,” she said.

Morgan went ahead with the procedure. And years later, she’s a lot healthier and happier.

She’s thankful for her almost nine-year-old son. And she’s at peace with the abortion she had at 14.

“That does not mean that I am an evil person. I had the option. The option is not some stuffy white man at the Capitol to make the decision,” she said.

The Turnaway Study is a yearslong research project that provides insight into the ways that getting an abortion, or being denied one, affects a person’s overall wellbeing.

The study showed that women with no access to an abortion who are forced to carry their pregnancies to term will experience long-term physical, mental and economic harm.

Morgan said the state of Texas failed her in several ways. She didn’t receive science based sex education in school.

“When we covered sex it was like chlamydia and herpes, the scarring of an STD, somebody’s vagina looking like a cauliflower,” she said.

Texas law does not require schools to teach sex education. If a school does choose to teach it, the curriculum must emphasize abstinence. In Texas, parents are required to provide their written consent for their children receiving sex education. This is referred to as the “opt-in” policy. Texas doesn’t require that the sex education instruction be medically accurate.

Morgan said this policy is setting up Texas teens to fail.

“Had there been this like, you can have access to birth control but you can still get pregnant. But if you still get pregnant, you still have access to an abortion. It would have made me feel like okay there’s options,” she said.

Irma Garcia with Jane’s Due Process said teens in need of abortion care can call their hotline to talk to their trained volunteers. The intake process is less than 20 questions. It will help address the specific needs of the client, like booking a clinic appointment, flights and hotels.

“And then once I contact you, we go over how the process works and I answer any questions that person may have,” said Garcia.

Danielle Jones is an OBGYN from Texas who recently moved to New Zealand. Dr. Jones expressed sympathy for Morgan’s abortion complications. She said there’s always a risk of infection with the procedure. But, for those seeking care outside of Texas, there are reliable clinics in Mexico.

“When we talk about people having “botched” or “back alley abortions,” this is really in reference to things that are done outside of medical practices, outside of skilled professionals,” she said.

Dr. Jones is also known as “Mama Doctor Jones” and she has about one and a half million subscribers on YouTube where she makes educational videos. She said people from Texas message her with questions they’re too afraid to ask their doctor.

“I get people commenting on my videos all the time, saying can you make a video on X, Y, Z? Because I don’t know if it’s safe to ask my doctor. I’m pregnant in Texas and I can’t go to the emergency room because I’m afraid that they will call the police,” she said.

Dr. Jones said her colleagues in Texas are fearful and just want to do what’s best for their patient.

“You never want to feel like you’re failing your patients. But I don’t think we’ve been put in a position where we have the option to not fail some of our patients,” she said.

Morgan had some words of encouragement for Texas youth who are feeling scared about being pregnant and seeking abortion care.

“They’re not alone. They still have their options and we will continue to fight until those options can be put on shelves and they’re over the counter. But for the time being, they’re not alone.”

And she said it’s okay to be scared.

For Texas teens who just learned they are pregnant, options are grim, but they aren’t zero.

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