Jane’s Abortion Ban Reality: An interview with Jane’s Due Process’ HK Gray
Senate Bill 8 (SB8), which you might know as the Texas Abortion Ban, has brought dark clouds to the future of all of those in Texas who are or can become pregnant. That bill forbids access to safe, legal abortion just six weeks into pregnancy. 85% to 90% of abortion procedures happen after the sixth week, so this would effectively be a near total ban of abortion in the Southern state. This new ban would also reward people denouncing those having an abortion or providing such service. Among the ones that would feel the brunt of its impact are people of color, immigrants, undocumented folks, impoverished people, minors and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Jane’s Due Process is a nonprofit organization in Texas expressly serving minors, and who has been seeing those dark clouds forming for some time now. HK Gray was a young person helped by Jane’s Due Process, and who later joined their ranks as an organizer. HK has experienced many ordeals before, during and after her pregnancy, and understands from both professional and personal points of view exactly how disastrous a law like SB8 can be.
In an interview to Scarleteen, HK, now 21, spoke about her personal struggles and the peril that SB8 is and ways to access abortion in current day Texas.
Scarleteen (ST): Can you tell our readers about Jane's Due Process and all that it does?
HK Gray (HKG): Jane's Due Process is the only Texas abortion fund that specializes in supporting minors who are trying to access an abortion. Texas has a parental consent law and if a minor is unable to include their parents in their decision to have an abortion, they can go through a legal process called a judicial bypass (more on this at Scarleteen here and here). This is where a judge decides whether a minor is mature and responsible enough to consent to an abortion on their own.
This process is designed to be confusing and overwhelming, so JDP helps minors through every step. We connect minors to pro bono attorneys, help them find their closest abortion clinic, provide transportation if needed, and give them all the information they need to successfully obtain their judicial bypass. We might be an abortion fund, but we also get lots of calls on our hotline (at 866-999-5263) from minors on things ranging from sex ed questions to needing access to emergency contraceptives. Because of this, we also provide information on sex ed, help teens access birth control or emergency contraceptives and connect them to Title IX clinics where they can get STD testing done without parental consent.
ST: You went through an abortion with help from Jane’s Due Process, and now you work for them. Can you tell us about this initial experience and how it's shaped your life then and since?
HKG: I got pregnant when I was seventeen. I was already a teen mom to my daughter and before getting pregnant with her at fifteen, I was unstably housed and on the verge of homelessness. So, when I found out I was pregnant again, I knew I couldn’t afford another child financially or mentally. I looked up Texas laws on abortion because at the time I didn’t even know if abortions were legal in Texas. After finding out abortions were legal in theory, I learned that I needed parental consent to actually access one. This was something I couldn’t do because my father was homeless and my mother was incarcerated. I was left with basically no options, and that's when I found a link to JDP’s website. I called and that same day they had connected me with the closest clinic and my attorney.
I went to the clinic to get the required ultrasound, met up with my lawyer, prepped for the hearing and went to court to obtain my judicial bypass which I luckily got. JDP helped me through everything but the process was still extremely time consuming and difficult. When I first called JDP’s hotline, I was only two weeks gestation and when I finally was able to actually have my abortion procedure, I was fourteen weeks. And it’s important to note that I got my abortion within two days of being granted my bypass. Having my abortion allowed me to properly care for my daughter and not have to struggle even more than I already was financially.
A little while later JDP reached out to me to see if I wanted to become involved in the organization. I started off as a volunteer and eventually joined the team. Since joining I’ve had opportunities to speak to Congress, lobby for different pro-choice bills, educate people on all things reproductive justice, publish articles and help produce a repro-based podcast.
I never really planned on doing anything like the work I do now and honestly, I was pretty directionless in what I wanted to do in life at the time of accessing my abortion. I think having gone through this experience with JDP allowed me to find my passion in reproductive justice and helped me figure out that I wanted to go to law school.
HKG: The 5th circuit has reinstated the law after 24 hours of being blocked by the lower court with a “temporary restraining order.” The temporary restraining order was designed to stop the law while the lawsuit to determine constitutionality continues on. It was the preferred outcome. Now, we wait and see what will happen at the Supreme Court.
ST: How do you think SB8 will impact lives, especially the lives of those who are, who become or who can become pregnant, in Texas? How in particular do you think it will impact the young people of Texas?
HKG: SB8 is unrealistic and leaves people with little options. With the gestation cut off being at six weeks, Texas is leaving out the most vulnerable Texans. Most people find out that they're pregnant at about four to eight weeks gestation. And if someone doesn’t have access to healthcare, is low-income, has preexisting health conditions that have similar symptoms to pregnancy [and/] or is an undocumented immigrant then it can take even longer before they can get confirmation on their pregnancy.
When we look at the clients that JDP supports, it’s clear that minors will be disproportionately affected by this ban. With many minors contacting our hotline, this is their first pregnancy. This means that it might take them a little while longer to realize that they’re pregnant then someone who has experience with previous pregnancies. If a minor can’t get the state required parental consent, then they have to get a judicial bypass which takes weeks to go through the entire process.
The clinics and courts are only open during school hours, so if a minor is in school, they have to figure out how to navigate taking time off of school to make it to the needed appointments. If the minor is located in a rural area, they might have to travel over a hundred miles just to get to a clinic. With all these added barriers for young Texans, it’s extremely difficult for them to access an abortion under SB8.
ST: Obviously, even something like SB8 that can do everyone harm can harm some more than others. What harm does and will SB8 do to people of color, impoverished folks and undocumented immigrants, in particular?
HKG: People of color, undocumented immigrants and low-income communities have the highest rates of being uninsured so they’re already lacking in access to healthcare in general. And within these communities there’s a major distrust in the medical field because historically they have faced medical gaslighting, not been treated fairly by their doctors and used as guinea pigs for experimental procedures or medicines.
This means that they're less likely to actually want to go to the doctor and since the uninsured rates are so high even if they wanted to, chances are they probably couldn’t afford to. This can make it difficult to know when they’re pregnant and can potentially cause them to find out at a later gestation.
They also have to navigate all the barriers put in place by Texas to make accessing an abortion hard with an added layer of difficulty when they have to think about potential discrimination, racism, documentation status and how they’ll even be able to afford it which is something that wealthy, white Texans don’t have to think about.
ST: Is it possible that other states might follow this lead? What can we all do to curtail this movement?
HKG: Texas is notorious for exporting bad public policy. So, when an abortion ban successfully passes in Texas, we tend to see other states trying to pass a similar bill, especially in the southern states that are hostile toward abortion. It’s definitely a possibility and one we’ve already seen Florida introducing a similar law this past week.
A big way to prevent this from happening in other states is by having reproductive justice organizations file lawsuits against the abortion ban in Texas which we’ve already seen happen. The best way for everyday people to help contribute is by protesting, fundraising, lobbying for pro-choice bills, busting the stigma surrounding abortions and volunteering at their local abortion clinics or funds. This is a great way to build power and allow for more voices to be heard against these bans.
ST: Do you believe young Texans know all their legal options when it comes to abortion after SB8, or do you think SB8 will scare them into believing they have fewer choices with pregnancies than they do?
HKG: I don’t think many young Texans knew about their legal options when it comes to abortion even before SB8 was passed, I know I didn’t and many of our clients don’t either. The Texas Board of Education requires schools teach abstinence-only sexual education and some schools don’t teach any at all. This means many Texans are poorly educated on all things birth control, abortion and reproductive health. Now that SB8 has passed, there will be even more confusion and fear. Many of our clients feel as if they are left with little options and we’ve seen an increase in calls requesting emergency contraception since the bill passed into law.
ST: We are already living in an era that people are not only basing their statements on lack of scientific evidence as they are also threatening and harassing those who oppose them and SB8 enlarger this situation by offering bounties for people to point who are trying to get help to have an abortion or having one. Have you been in that situation? Do you believe it might become worse?
HKG: Pro-choice organizations and advocates have always had to deal with threats and harassment in doing this work. It’s just become part of the job description at this point but it’s definitely been a major safety concern since SB8 has passed because it emboldens people even more.
I’ve dealt with threats to mine and my families lives, I’ve had an anti-choice protester try to out me to my family when they found out I identified as bisexual and at every in-person event pre-Covid there were whole lists of safety measures we had to go through just in case someone wanted to cause harm to us. And this was all before the six-week ban passed. I personally haven’t dealt with anything post SB8 but I’m expecting to at some point.
ST: How SB8 can effect healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health as well as prenatal healthcare?
HKG: I think SB8 can make people very fearful about getting pregnant and because of that they are rushing to get birth control that is long-lasting. Many people will look at IUDs as the “best option” when it comes to birth control after SB8 but people still have agency to choose what birth control is best for them. Teens are still able to go to Title X clinics as a low cost or free option for birth control. There are also resources if someone ends up using a form of birth control that fails them. There are still resources to help people get an abortion if they need one.
ST: We live in a time with broader sex education access, for example, a site like Scarleteen, which publishes in-depth information on contraception, and self-managed abortion, and strong messaging that supports reproductive justice and agency. These things are obviously helpful, but how else can sex ed help?
HKG: I think many people hear the term sex ed and think that it only pertains to information about pregnancy and STIs but that’s just not the case. Sex ed covers a wide range of topics including puberty, consent, how to identify a healthy relationship, birth control methods, and std prevention. The things that are taught in sex ed help young people navigate relationships.
ST: How can people from other states or countries help those in Texas right now?
HGK: Donating to a Texas abortion fund and remote volunteering options are the biggest way to have a direct impact. But I’m a firm believer in digital advocacy having a lasting impact. If you see an image on Twitter or Instagram busing stigma surrounding abortions or if you come across a post by a Texas Abortion Fund that talks about some of the issues, they’re facing then repost it so they can get more exposure.