This article has been updated.
SAN ANTONIO — D chose black leggings and a zip-up hoodie because it’s the kind of outfit that blends in anywhere.
She could go to the gym to work out, like she’d told her parents when she left the house — or she could go to the gym to sit in the parking lot with her laptop on her knees, petitioning a judge to let her have an abortion.
The 17-year-old arrived at the San Antonio strip mall 30 minutes before her hearing in January, pulling into a space far enough from the gym doors to avoid attention, but close enough that she wouldn’t feel alone.
D reached for “A Woman’s Right to Know,” the antiabortion booklet the court expected her to study. Her least favorite page, about the risks and complications associated with abortion, was striped with pink highlighter. Preparing for today, she’d skipped over the medical terms — hemorrhaging, perforation — highlighting only the words that were familiar: Heavy bleeding. A hole in the uterus. Increased risk of infertility.
D was terrified to have an abortion, but she couldn’t show it. If she seemed scared, even just a little bit, she thought, the judge might decide she couldn’t do this on her own.
Texas is one of 21 states that requires minors to obtain consent from at least one parent before they can have an abortion. To circumvent parental approval, minors have to go to court. They must prove they’re hiding their pregnancy for a good reason — and that they’re mature enough, and informed enough, to make this decision on their own. Because of her situation, The Lily agreed to identify D, now 18, only by her first initial.
The parental consent law is one of dozens of antiabortion laws that have passed in Texas. This session, state legislators introduced the “Texas Heartbeat Act” just over a month after D’s January hearing, a measure that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Texas is often seen as a testing ground for new varieties of antiabortion legislation — and this particular bill includes a provision unlike anything introduced in state legislatures so far: Any person in the country could sue someone who helps a Texan access abortion after the six-week limit, which could force abortion funds and independent clinics across the state to close. The governor signed the bill on Wednesday.
While the law will almost certainly be overturned in the courts, it signals the legislature’s deep and intensifying commitment to limit abortion access — a move that is mirrored in states across the country. When D heard about the six-week ban, she cried. The judicial-bypass process, allowing minors to access abortion without parental consent, can take up to a month.
She found out she was pregnant at five and a half weeks.
D took her first pregnancy test just after midnight on a Friday. Her best friend was over. They’d been watching a scary movie and eating Chinese takeout when D mentioned her period was a week late.
If D wanted to take a pregnancy test, her friend said, she would take one, too. They drove to a 24-hour Walgreens, then back to D’s house, shutting themselves in a bathroom a few doors down from where D’s parents slept.
“I can’t look,” D said when the two-minute window was up, handing the stick to her friend facedown. “You do it.”
At 12:47 a.m., D texted her boyfriend: “I’m pregnant.”
Twenty minutes went by.
“Bro answer pls. Idk what to do. I need you to answer.”
Twenty-three more minutes.
“I can’t sleep.”
D would have to wait until he woke up in the morning. She lay in bed, thinking about what her parents would say if they found out. Her family is Catholic, she said, with crosses hanging above every doorway. D has a framed picture of the Virgin Mary above her bed. If her father learned she got pregnant at 17, D said, she suspected she might have to find another place to live.
“You can always have an abortion,” D’s sister said when they met up the next day.
D hadn’t allowed herself to think about that option, she said, remembering everything her priest said in Sunday Mass: People who have abortions go to hell.
Two years older than D and a newly minted college feminist, her sister never listened to any of that: If D wanted to have an abortion, she promised to do whatever she could to help.
At first, the situation seemed hopeless. Because existing Texas law bans abortion after 20 weeks gestation, D had to find a lawyer and file her paperwork as soon as possible. But she didn’t know any lawyers, and she had no money to pay for one.
Then she got a text from a friend, one of the three she told about her pregnancy: Had D heard about an organization called Jane’s Due Process? An advertisement had popped up on her Snapchat stories, the friend said. It looked like they helped minors in Texas who needed an abortion but couldn’t tell their parents.
D immediately called the hotline and spoke to an advocate who laid out the process. They would get a hearing date on Zoom in a few weeks. There would be a lawyer, a judge and a court reporter. D would tell them her name was Jane Doe.
“At that point I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe I can do this,’” D said.
While she was waiting for her hearing, D struggled to hide her pregnancy from her parents. Her mom noticed every little change: Why had she suddenly stopped eating scrambled eggs for breakfast? She wanted to know why D looked so tired, so pale.
“I had to keep my cool, like, ‘What do you mean?’” D said.
D picked up her study materials for the hearing at her sonogram appointment, stashing them in her backpack, nestled between worksheets and readings for school: the one place she assumed her parents would never think to look. She studied “A Woman’s Right to Know" after everyone else in the house went to sleep. Distributed by the state health department through abortion clinics, Democratic lawmakers say the booklet is “a propaganda piece" full of medically inaccurate information.
D was told the judge would expect her to know it cold.
Lying on her bed, she’d also review a list of questions from her lawyer.
Some were easy: How old are you? Do you go to school? Do you work? Do you have a bank account?
Others were harder: What would your parents do if you told them?
“I can’t talk to my parents about that,” she’d whisper to herself, rehearsing what she’d say. “They would kick me out. They wouldn’t talk to me. I would feel alone and I wouldn’t have nowhere to go.”
Even when she was alone, she said, she rarely made it through the answers without crying. What if that happened in court, she wondered: Would the judge think she was too young? Too unstable?
As the hearing got closer, D wished she was allowed to be a little scared. She did feel mature enough to make this decision, she said. But she was also a 17-year-old faced with a life-changing choice, asking for the opportunity to undergo surgery alone — and she wanted her mom.
D’s hearing was scheduled for the end of January, about three weeks after she found out she was pregnant. Just as she’d feared, D started to cry when the judge asked why she needed judicial bypass. But the judge was kind, she said. As soon as D finished talking, she approved her request.
At eight and a half weeks pregnant, D had an abortion.
While she would have preferred the abortion pill, she said, she’d opted for surgery: The frequent trips to the bathroom expected with the pill might have made her parents suspicious. That morning, she told her parents she was going to work.
D doesn’t remember much from the procedure, she said. A nurse asked her to take off her pants and underwear. The paper crinkled as she scooted down the bed and slid her feet into the stirrups. She put on her headphones — selecting a playlist her boyfriend had made for her — and allowed her mind to drift.
Four months later, D sat in the same car where she was granted her abortion, watching on a laptop as a group of Texas legislators passed the six-week abortion ban.
“Once the heartbeat is detected, that life is protected,” said state Rep. Shelby Slawson (R), the bill’s sponsor. Other legislators cheered and leaped to their feet.
“What makes them think they have a right to tell you what to do and what not to do?” D said, staring at the screen. She couldn’t believe the bill was introduced by a woman.
She gripped the steering wheel to stop her hands from shaking.
“I feel scared for other girls.”
A senior in high school, D has spent a lot of time imagining what her future might look like.
“I want to finish school. I want to travel. I want to enjoy myself,” she said. “I really want to go to Rome.” She wants a big family too, she said — at least five kids, once she has the money to support them.
More than anything, she said, she hopes that one day, years from now, she can tell her mom what happened when she was 17.