Jane Doe reminds us that our rights hang in the balance

Jane Doe reminds us that our rights hang in the balance
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A 17 year-old, undocumented immigrant in Texas — known in the media coverage as Jane Doe — finally won and got justice in her fight for her reproductive rights. Despite repeated attempts by the Trump administration to bar this young woman’s access to an abortion, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of her right to bodily autonomy and she was able to move forward with the procedure.

While this is a heartening victory in these daunting times for reproductive rights and access, the path that Jane Doe was forced to take to get here should serve as a stark reminder of just how fragile our reproductive rights are in America.

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Jane Doe’s right to have an abortion was blocked because in Texas, as in many other states, minors are forced to involve their parents in the decision to have an abortion. In 37 states in our country, minors are required to either notify or gain consent from one or both parents before getting an abortion.

 

Parental notification and parental consent laws are as problematic as they are widespread. The result of these laws is that underage girls, unable to obtain their parent's consent, are forced to bear a child before they reach their 18th birthday. Or, even worse, girls terrified of confronting their parents seek unsafe and even life-threatening ways to terminate their pregnancies.   

My organization,Trust Women, operates abortion clinics in Wichita, Kan. and Oklahoma City, Okla. In Oklahoma, minors must obtain consent from one parent and in Kansas, minors must gain consent from both parents to obtain an abortion. I can tell you, from firsthand experience, that these laws do not protect young women they do just the opposite.

Judicial bypass laws attempt to protect the reproductive rights of minors by allowing a judge to waive parental consent on a case-by-case basis. In Jane Doe’s case, she obtained this consent, but the federal government then intervened, arguing and appealing each time a judge ruled in her favor, attempting to run out the clock on the legal window for Jane to obtain an abortion.

Those minors who most desperately need access to abortion care are often those who are most vulnerable: homeless, undocumented and LGBT youth, and those whose parents may be uninvolved in their lives or even imprisoned.

Requiring these children to go before a judge to obtain the right to decide what happens to their own bodies just puts one more obstacle in their way, leading to more unwanted pregnancies and more young people seeing their right to determine their own destiny slip out of their hands.

Everyone deserves the right to decide what happens to their own bodies and that includes minors. While justice was served for Jane Doe, the reproductive rights of people across this country are under threat. Jane Doe’s case is a victory, but it’s also an important lesson in just how far we have to go to provide bodily autonomy and reproductive justice to all.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their healthcare. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.