I had an abortion at 17. Under Texas' new abortion law, it could never have happened.
As of Sept. 2, Texas has successfully turned back the clock on abortion rights: Senate Bill 8 (SB8), one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation, prohibits legal abortion access just six weeks into gestation, when most people don’t even realize they’re pregnant. Because 85% to 90% of abortion procedures take place after the six week mark, per advocates, SB8 effectively means a near total ban on abortion in the Lone Star State.
While multiple pro-choice organizations and abortion care providers are struggling to figure out how they’ll continue to operate under this restrictive new law, private citizens are now allowed to pursue legal action against anyone who performs a procedure — or anyone who “aids or abets” one. HK Gray, 21, is an advocacy fellow with Jane’s Due Process, an organization that helps teens in Texas access birth control and abortion. Here, she spoke to Elite Daily’s Rhyma Castillo about what it’s like on the ground in Texas after SB8 passed, and the future of reproductive rights for teens in the state.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was 17, I found out I was pregnant at two weeks. I already had a child at the time, and the second I found out I was pregnant, I knew I needed to have an abortion. Texas requires parental consent to get an abortion if you’re under 18, so I reached out to Jane’s Due Process almost immediately to obtain a judicial bypass, a court approval for my abortion without parental consent. They helped me every step of the way, and afterwards they reached out to see if I wanted to become involved in the organization. At first, I started off as a volunteer speaking at events, fundraising, and supporting incoming clients. Then, Jane’s Due Process offered me and some other previous clients paid work as peer support group leaders. I really fell in love with the organization's mission: we help teens access birth control, or access abortion via the judicial bypass system. Joining them allowed me to work in a field that I didn’t know I was passionate about.
When SB8 was introduced, and then passed in May 2021, we knew it would greatly reduce abortion access and disproportionately harm the clients Jane’s Due Process works with. We’d hoped it would be blocked by the Supreme Court, but that unfortunately was not the case. [Editor’s Note: Following this interview, on Sept. 2 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the law can go into effect, denying a request to block it for the duration of legal challenges.] SB8 bans abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, but the majority of teens experiencing pregnancy for the first time are going through a completely new experience, and don’t even realize they’re pregnant until much later on. Often, the side effects of pregnancy can be attributed to things like stress, hormones, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or any other kind of underlying cause. And if their menstrual cycle is regular, six weeks is right around the time most people realize they've missed a period. To access abortion care without involving their parents, teens have to go to court to obtain a judicial bypass, and that entire process can take six weeks in itself. So teens are going to be very negatively and disproportionately affected by this ban — especially those from low-income communities of color.
If this ban had been around back then, there’d be no way for me to get an abortion in Texas.
When I got my abortion, the judicial bypass process (meeting my lawyer, going before a judge) took about 12 weeks. I got my abortion 14 weeks and five days into my pregnancy. If this ban had been around back then, there’d be no way for me to get an abortion in Texas. It makes me really sad for past me — I would've been forced to continue my pregnancy or to go to a different state to access abortion care, which makes the entire process so much more mentally, physically, and financially costly.
Having SB8 go into effect is, honestly, a nightmare. But regardless of how things are, the Jane’s Due Process hotline will continue to run so we can provide as much information and support as we can. We’ve already been seeing more requests for help for a while now: Since Texas’ temporary ban on abortion at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, people have become very confused about what’s going on. Now, having SB8 piled on top of everything else makes the whole process very scary for clients. They're reaching out to us in crisis mode, thinking abortion is entirely illegal, or they won't be able to get one because of COVID. With all these roadblocks coming together, we’ve had a sharp increase in texts and calls to our hotline, and I anticipate we’ll get more and more calls from frightened people as days and weeks continue.
Because of SB8, the danger in my work is much more present now than it was before. The law allows any private citizen to bring a lawsuit against someone who may have “aided and abetted” an abortion, and sue them for $10,000. But the intimidation doesn't change how I feel about doing this work, because I'm very passionate about it. The way I see it, doing this work will help ensure my daughter can access an abortion if she needs one, just like I did when I was a teenager. My passion comes from a place of love and hope for the future. But I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge there’s much more danger in what I do now than there was before.
I have to approach my work with a new level of caution, and stay really aware of everything I’m doing. I can't go out in anything that might give my location or address away, like my high school clothes or any T-shirts that might say where I’m from. I have to make sure I’m in incognito mode when I'm out speaking publicly about my abortion experience, or my life could be threatened. I’ve always been aware of those dangers, but not to the degree that I have to be now under SB8. Luckily, I haven't gotten any threats since SB8 went into effect, but I have gotten threats in the past. I'm bisexual, and at one point, there was a guy who bought ads on Facebook to out me to my family. But threats haven’t changed how I feel about my work, and I'm prepared to receive more now that SB8 has gone into effect.
I have to push through and continue being resilient for the people who need me.
I used to be angry about these injustices. But I've been doing this work for a while, and I've seen all the highs and lows that come with it. I do get discouraged at times, but I pick myself back up and realign myself with the overall mission. Things might get bad, but regardless of how I feel, I have to push through and continue being resilient for the people who need me.
While advocates like me do have to be more discreet with the way we operate now under SB8, I think we have to keep doing what we’ve always been doing — we have to round up more like-minded people to join our organizing efforts, contribute to fundraisers, and educate the community. My hope is that people will recognize the state of abortion access, not just in Texas, but in America as a whole. I want more people to support organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding abortion access, to donate to abortion funds, to volunteer as clinic escorts, and to really put themselves on the front lines. The more you get involved with pro-choice organizing — the more you deal with what our clients have to deal with — the more you realize how unfair the circumstances are. The more people help out, donate, and volunteer their time, the better equipped we’ll all be to fight these abortion bans and protect access in the future.