Welcome to Judicial Bypass Week at If/When/How! We’re highlighting the excellent work of attorneys, advocates, academics, and youth around the country who are working to make mandatory parental involvement laws a thing of the past, ensuring that young people who can’t, or can’t safely, involve their parents in their abortion decisions are able to access the care they need swiftly and without shame or stigma.
Blake Rocap works as legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and is a longtime board member at Jane’s Due Process, the Texas legal nonprofit that supports young people who need abortion care in the Lone Star state. He also serves on the board of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, and is a volunteer attorney with Jane’s Due Process.
We asked Blake to tell us how he got into the work, and how he approaches some of the biggest challenges in the fight to make sure young folks have access to a full spectrum of reproductive health care decisions.
If/When/How: How did you get into working to help young folks access abortion care?
Blake Rocap: I had the good(?) fortune of growing up in Texas and finishing my undergraduate work and law school at the beginning of the extreme anti-abortion takeover of the Texas Legislature. When I was 17 and started college, there was no parental involvement law in Texas. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree and was in law school, Texas was enforcing a parental notification law, and I was a summer law clerk for Jane’s Due Process. I thought the parental involvement law was exceptionally invasive, but if a judicial bypass was going to be required, I knew that those young people who needed a bypass deserved competent, trained counsel to help them. Helping people secure their rights was exactly what I went to law school for, so it was a natural fit.
If/When/How: What do you see as the biggest challenges to abortion access for young people right now — where you live, or for the folks you work with, or more broadly/politically speaking?
BR: All of the challenges that anyone faces in accessing abortion are usually bigger barriers to youth. Transportation, cost, time away from work and school. In Texas, in addition to those more universal obstacles, lack of quality evidence-based sex education (and therefore stigma surrounding reproductive health) lead to pregnant teens in need of more education about their bodies and healthcare. Unfortunately this lack of education is often conflated with a lack of knowledge of their own circumstances and ability to make the decision that is best for them. This has the effect of denying young people agency to make their own healthcare decisions and makes it far too easy for adults to dismiss their decision-making.
If/When/How: What advice do you have for lawyers who want to get into challenging and navigating parental involvement laws?
BR: Like any other practice area, there are other attorneys who are willing to help you understand the specific circumstances in your community and how the judicial bypass practice works in your state. They can be your best resource for getting involved. Determine what the referral process or organization is for youth to comply with parental involvement laws in your state and community.
If/When/How: What’s the biggest misunderstanding or misconception that other folks — maybe even other folks in the repro movement — have about parental involvement laws and the judicial bypass process?
BR: That young people have a different range or type of decision-making process, or emotional response, to a pregnancy decision than adults have, and so should be taken less seriously, supported less, or provided less patience than adults.
If/When/How: What inspires you to continue doing this work even (or especially) in a political climate or geography hostile to abortion access?
BR: The rewarding feeling that I was able to help someone when they needed it most.
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