Last month, the United States Supreme Court refused to block a law in Texas that threatens the lives and life outcomes of girls who are pregnant as a result of statutory rape, incest, trafficking, and unwanted pregnancies, which is 99% of teen pregnancies. The law bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected—an event that usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy and before a child would know they are pregnant. The law also turns private citizens into vigilantes against the pregnant, including pregnant kids. Others have been eloquent about the effect this law has on adults. I am going to address how the law threatens the lives of female children, which in Texas means under 18 years of age. The law has no exception for children, rape, incest, or trafficking.
In short, this cruel law makes kids who have already been subject to sexual predators to then become prey for vigilantes looking for dollars. In effect, Texas is encouraging citizens to engage in economic trafficking of these girls.
The approximately six-week timeline as defined in the Texas law is particularly worrisome for girls and teenagers. This new law will have a more dramatic impact on those under age 18, because children and teenagers generally become aware that they are pregnant later than adults do. In both age groups, women typically won’t they are pregnant until weeks after Texas’s six-week cutoff. Adults notice their pregnancy on average at 9.6 weeks while minors don’t notice until 10.7 weeks. That’s right, this law trips up women and girls by closing the door on abortion before they know they are pregnant. Many women also have irregular periods or may not track their periods carefully making it “extremely possible and very common for people to get to the six-week mark and not know they are pregnant.” For young girls and teenagers, their menstrual cycles are even more likely to be irregular. Reporters asked Governor Greg Abbott about the effect the law has on rape and incest victims in forcing them to give birth. His response: “[It] doesn’t require that at all, because, obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to get an abortion.” The six-week mark is a trap to block girls from ending a pregnancy that can ruin their lives, while the vigilante provisions let adults prey on girls for $10,000. Whether you are pro-life or not, this is a lot of money that will further undermine the girl’s ability to cope with a sex predator and pregnancy.
Pregnancy also poses a greater risk of health and societal concerns to children as compared to women. Of 21 countries that provided complete statistics, the U.S. has the highest rate of pregnancies in females who are 15-19 years old. Girls also have a higher risk of death from pregnancy then adult women. Children are more likely than adult women to experience obstructed labor, fistula, premature delivery, and giving birth to low-birth-weight babies. There is also a link between child pregnancy and sex trafficking in that if a child becomes pregnant, she has an increased risk of being trafficked.
In terms of education and future success, pregnancy and birth are major contributors to high-school dropout rates among girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, as compared to 90% of women who do not give birth during adolescence. Another study found that teen mothers complete 1.9 to 2.2 fewer years of education compared to women who delay having children until at least age 30. The children of teen mothers also bear the brunt of their child mothers’ problems: they are more likely to have lower school achievement, have more health problems, become incarcerated during adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult.
In addition to the health and societal concerns, young girls and teenagers may face trauma and dangers from within their own family if they disclose an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy to their parents. Senate Bill 8 leaves the most vulnerable, pregnant children at an even higher risk of abuse and neglect. Although Texas has a judicial bypass mechanism in place, it still lets children be subjected to vigilantes as they seek help. Further, the six-week requirement makes it exceedingly more difficult, if not impossible, for young girls and teenagers to obtain such a bypass. Rosann Mariappuram, the executive director of the organization Jane’s Due Process, which assists children with the judicial bypass, stated, “If they come in at five and a half weeks, we have three or four days to get it done. Only teens who live in or close to major metropolitan areas are able to do that, because of the travel that’s required to get to the clinics.”
Texas has knowingly sacrificed the lives of young girls and teenagers despite the determination that a fetus is not considered a person under any reading of the history, legislative intent, and plain language of the Fourteenth Amendment. Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the proclaimed conservative hero of an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, conceded this point. In a 2008 interview with CBS News, Scalia declared, “[T]here are anti-abortion people who think that the Constitution requires a state to prohibit abortion. They say that the Equal Protection Clause requires that you treat a helpless human being that’s still in the womb the way you treat other human beings… I think when the Constitution says that persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws, I think it clearly means walking-around persons.”
So, what has Texas wrought? To start, it has created an increased risk of child marriages, incest with no way out, rape with no escape, and young lives dramatically diminished. The lives of living girls are being subjugated to the non-viable. This outcome is irrational. That means it is unconstitutional, whether or not Roe v Wade is re-engineered or overruled.
This revolting endangerment of young girls’ lives is particularly troubling when considering the irrational measures taken by Texas officials in dealing with COVID-19, which as of last month included Governor Abbott’s executive order banning the use of vaccine mandates in the public sector and Senator Ted Cruz’s proposed federal legislation banning mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and COVID passports. These recent legislative actions from Texas beg the question: How can this so-called “right to life” state enact so many laws and regulations that will lead to the preventable deaths of its children and citizens?