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Texas Teens Are Facing "Insurmountable Barriers" To Get Birth Control

More than 150 family planning clinics funded by Title X will be affected.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2022 Texas ruling that teens must not only obtain parental consent in order to provide adolescents with birth control, but also notify parents if their minor children seek birth control and get their consent to provide it. The decision asserted that clinics funded by Title X were not exempt from the Texas Family Code, a law that requires parental consent for minors to obtain birth control. In other words, it’s going to be harder for Texas teens to obtain reproductive healthcare.

The initial suit was brought by Alexander Deanda, a father of three minor daughters who alleged that the Title X exemption inhibited his ability to raise his daughters “according to his Christian beliefs to abstain from pre-marital sex.” Despite providing no evidence that any of his girls had ever attempted to obtain — much less received — contraceptives, the case moved forward. Deanda was represented by Jonathan Mitchell, the legal architect behind the state’s strict six week abortion ban, which allows anyone to sue people they suspect of being involved in receiving, providing, or helping to provide abortions.

Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, a 2019 Trump appointee, is known for his conservative-leaning rulings and has been at the center of several nationally famous cases, including an attempt to ban the use of Mifepristone — a drug used in abortions and miscarriages — ruling that it never should have received a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The case will be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. In fact, some legal analysts have suggested that cases are specifically brought to his court (Kacsmaryk is the sole judge seated in the Amarillo division of the U.S. District of Northern Texas) due to his tendency to rule against the Biden administration, a practice known as “judge shopping.”

Kacsmaryk’s ruling was upheld by New Orleans-based judges Stuart Kyle Duncan, Priscilla Richman, and Catharina Haynes, all three appointed by Republican presidents. Duncan, a Trump appointee, successfully argued Burwell v Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court case that ruled corporations could be exempt from providing healthcare, namely birth control, on religious grounds. In the ruling, Duncan argued that since Title X highlights family involvement in a teen’s decision to obtain birth control (“to the extent practical”), it aligns with Texas’ parental consent laws. One does not undermine the other. “To the contrary,” he wrote, “the two laws reinforce each other.”

Legal experts working for abortion rights suggest that these laws will not stop at inhibiting teens’ access to contraception. Rather, they argue parental notification and consent laws in regard to abortion have often been footholds in rolling back abortion rights and access more broadly.

This affirmation of the ruling is expected to affect more than 150 clinics supported by Title X across the Lone Star State. Lucie Arvallo, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a Texas-based organization seeking to protect teens’ access to reproductive care, told the Texas Tribune, “We know from over two decades of working with teens that young people will frequently include parents in their reproductive health care decisions, but for some, parental involvement and legal decisions like this one are insurmountable barriers. Teens should be able to access birth control, no matter their circumstances or where they live.” She also noted that the case was unlikely to be appealed to the Supreme Court; given its 2022 reversal of Roe v Wade, its unlikely they would reverse the 5th Circuit decision, and its affirmation could jeopardize teens’ ability to obtain birth control nationwide.