Texas teens will now need their parents’ permission to get birth control at federally funded clinics, following a court ruling late last month.
These clinics, funded through a program called Title X, provide free, confidential contraception to anyone regardless of age, income or immigration status; before this ruling, Title X was one of the only ways teens in Texas could obtain birth control without parental consent.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled in December that the program violates parents’ rights and state and federal law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has asked the court to reconsider that decision.
But in the meantime, Texas’ Title X administrator, Every Body Texas, has advised its 156 clinics to require parental consent for minors “out of an abundance of caution” as it awaits further guidance from HHS.
“We hope that as the case proceeds, we are able to revoke this guidance and continue to provide minors in Texas the sexual and reproductive care they need and deserve with or without parental consent,” said Stephanie LeBleu, acting Title X project director at Every Body Texas.
Minors can still access testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests, emergency contraception, condoms and counseling without parental consent, LeBleu said.
The case was brought by Jonathan Mitchell, the former Texas solicitor general who masterminded the state’s ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Mitchell is representing Alexander Deanda, a father of three daughters.
Deanda is raising his daughters “in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality, which requires unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage,” according to the complaint.
Neither Deanda nor his daughters have sought services at a Title X clinic, per the complaint. But Kacsmaryk ruled that the program violates Deanda’s rights under the Texas Family Code and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, denying him the “fundamental right to control and direct the upbringing of his minor children.”
See here and here for the background. Of the many annoying things about this is the obvious-even-to-a-non-lawyer-like-me question of standing. As in, how exactly is this guy injured in any way by the existence of this policy? My daughters have never sought services at a Title X clinic either. Am they now injured because they would have to get my permission to get birth control there? I know I’m asking for a rational answer for an irrational ruling, but I don’t get it.
And speaking of harms, this story came out a few hours after the previous one.
In Sabine County, pine trees outnumber the people. To commute between Pineland and Hemphill, the two towns that anchor the county, residents drive down a road that winds through a national forest. The towns are dotted with churches that loom large in daily community life. Bible scriptures are printed on plaques in local stores and even in Gilder’s office.
Research has shown access to contraception and comprehensive sex education prevents unplanned pregnancies. But for sexually active teens trying not to get pregnant in Sabine County, it’s hard to access either.
Sex education in Texas is taught amid tight parameters and bureaucratic strings. Texas schools have to offer health class at the middle school level, but parents must opt their children in to any lessons about sexual health. And when teachers do touch on sex education, state law requires them to stress abstinence as the preferred choice before marriage.
Even if teens in this region want contraception, it’s nearly impossible to get without parental consent. In small towns like Hemphill and Pineland, parents have eyes and ears everywhere, making teens reluctant to go to the local Brookshire Brothers or dollar store to purchase condoms. They could go to a family planning clinic, which provides contraception at little to no cost, but only clinics funded through the federal Title X program do not require parental permission — and a federal judge in Texas ruled last month that the program violates parents’ rights and state and federal law.
As Every Body Texas, the nonprofit group that is the state’s Title X administrator, awaits guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on how to proceed, it informed Texas providers this week to require parental consent out of precaution.
Today, family planning programs are few and far between, thanks to funding cuts by the Texas Legislature in 2011. No family planning clinic exists in Sabine County. To get to the nearest one, teens in the region must travel to an adjacent county.
Meanwhile, Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country. And in 2020, Sabine County’s teen birth rate was three times the statewide average. Nearly 7% of Sabine County teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth that year, compared with about 2% statewide.
You know where those parents don’t have eyes and ears? All the places where their teenage children are having unsafe sex and getting pregnant as a result. Funny how that works.