Birth control ordinance will see new validation at Texas Capitol

Austin, Texas (AP) – Samantha Sorsby-Jones watched friends from her high school in Texas go to great lengths to get contraceptives: secretly arranging trips to clinics that didn’t require parental consent and hiding phones in the bushes in case their parents tracked them.

Starting Tuesday, access to reproductive health is likely to require a new scrutiny in front of the Republican-controlled Texas Capitol, where new restrictions are being discussed in the first meeting after a strict statewide abortion ban goes into effect.

Texas’ abortion ban is one of the strictest in the nation, allowing no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and Republican leaders will by no means add exceptions for the next five months. Nationwide, reproductive rights should remain the dominant issue in other US states, where a patchwork of politics has spread across the country since the fall of Roe v. Wade.

“The right to bodily autonomy is being taken away in so many ways, it’s really devastating,” said Sorsby-Jones, 20, who was able to get contraceptives as a high school student three years ago at a federally funded clinic in New York. Texas after her parents refused to help her.

But a December decision by a federal judge in Amarillo suddenly closed that path for other Texan teenagers. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kachsmarik ruled that allowing minors to receive free contraceptives without parental consent at federally funded clinics under a program known as Title X violates parental rights and state laws.

These clinics offer a wide range of family planning services and served more than 182,000 people in Texas in 2020, according to Every Body Texas, which manages the state’s funds. The bill, introduced by a Democrat in response to Kachsmarik’s decision, could face resistance from Republicans, who have controlled the Texas Legislature for two decades and won a majority in the fall midterm elections.

For Republicans, the new proposals include punishing companies that help their Texas workers get abortions elsewhere, restricting mail-order access to abortion-inducing drugs, and issuing emergency contraception. Anti-abortion groups are also pushing lawmakers in the wake of the Texas abortion ban to spend more money on services for pregnant women and Texan parents, including expanding Medicaid coverage for mothers.

John Seago, president of the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, said he doesn’t see enough GOP support to make exceptions to the state’s abortion ban. “If we don’t respond to this in this session, it will become the status quo,” Seago said.

Having received help from the Title X Clinic, Sorsby-Jones said she has spent years helping other teens find resources to make independent reproductive health decisions. In high school, she said, some of her peers had to hide their phones in the bushes at a nearby fast food restaurant or leave them at school because of parental geolocation apps.

When she volunteered for a nonprofit that helps teens access reproductive health resources, Sorsby-Jones said clients included abusive minors and those who faced cultural barriers in seeking parental permission for birth control. While the main focus was on contraceptives, Sorsby-Jones said that for many teens, this was due to access to medication without stigmatization for conditions like endometriosis, which caused them to miss school due to severe abdominal pain.

Roseanne Mariappuram, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, said their organization’s hotline immediately began receiving calls and text messages from Texas teens following the court ruling in December. “When this decision was made, it literally robbed Texas teens of their reproductive rights overnight,” Mariappuram said.

At least 13 states have also banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with various exceptions, and many of them are set to discuss ways to limit or expand access as legislatures reopen across the country. Several existing prohibitions, as well as other less restrictive prohibitions, are being challenged in court.

State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, a Democrat from the border city of Laredo, filed a proposal that would oppose the Title X ruling. She herself received Title X birth control after giving birth to a child as a teenager.

“This bill empowers teenagers to make decisions about their own health care as well as their future,” Ramos said.


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