"It's Simple: Listen To and Trust Young People."

Welcome to our third annual Youth Abortion Access Week at If/When/How! We’re highlighting the excellent work of youth activists, legal professionals, clinic workers, and supporters around the country who are working to make forced parental involvement laws a thing of the past, ensuring that young people are able to access abortion care without barriers, shame, or stigma. 

Shantell Hardiman is a Patient Advocate at A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville, an independent woman-owned abortion clinic. Shantell guides minors in navigating the judicial bypass process to access and obtain abortion care at the clinic. Prior to joining AWC’s team, Shantell spent four years working in family, criminal, and personal injury law. She spoke with If/When/How about supporting young people seeking abortion care and how her training as a paralegal informs her work.

Photo courtesy of Shantell Hardiman

If/When/How: What barriers to abortion access have you seen young people face in your role as an adult advocate?

Shantell Hardiman: In my role as a Patient Advocate for Judicial Bypass at A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville, I’m one of the first people that will listen to teens who are seeking abortion care. On my initial call with minors, they often express being scared and uncertain about who they can confide in. My first priority is to actively listen and establish trust. Our young people need to be heard and supported. 

Finding someone trustworthy to help them navigate the process is one of many obstacles youth face when accessing abortion care. While the majority of folks of all ages seeking abortion care face logistical and financial barriers, minors are less likely to afford travel and often struggling to find funds that will cover all portions of the care. On top of that, minors who cannot receive parental consent for their abortion also have the additional hurdle of securing an attorney to help them get a judicial bypass. While they are trying to access health care, they are also wondering, ‘How do I locate an attorney that will help? How do I know if they support access to abortion?’ This is a hefty burden for young people to maneuver alone. I’m grateful for the work organizations like Jane’s Due Process, Floridians for Reproductive Freedom, and If/When/How that are working to create concrete resources for minors. 

If/When/How: Why is it important to have someone at the clinic dedicated to supporting young people?

SH: The new forced parental consent law in Florida means there are a lot of questions and unknown variables, and having a designated advocate for our young folks is emotionally and physically necessary. There are too many obstacles for anyone seeking abortion care and minors experience even more. I think their needs often are overlooked. This shouldn’t be the case, and we’re trying to remedy that. 

When I work with young people, we establish a rapport, and they know they have one constant person that supports their decision and is there for every part of their journey – educating them on their options and resources, finding funds, securing an attorney, walking them through the paperwork, holding their hand during the procedure. We are putting the power in their hands. 

If/When/How: What parts of your job supporting young people do you enjoy the most?

SH: I love helping people and am passionate about supporting young people. Being the constant point of contact and support person for the young person is rewarding. When they get the care they want and deserve, I can see they feel confident, and knowing that I played a small part in that warms me. 

If/When/How: What’s a typical day like in your job?

SH: Working in a clinic means that there isn’t necessarily a typical day, it’s ever-changing. You must have the basics down pat and be flexible, because each patient has different experiences and traumas that they bring with them, which means that every day brings new challenges. 

With that said, mornings in the clinic are extremely busy. Patients arrive anxious for their procedures and I help with the check-in process and assist the minors with filling out their charts. During check-in they receive a lot of paperwork. I walk them through each paper so they understand and are comfortable with each section. After completing paperwork, I walk them through what they can expect for the duration of their appointment.

It’s my job to make sure that the patients feel safe, supported, and empowered. I often share my own abortion story that I had at A Woman’s Choice before I applied for this position. I want them to know that having an abortion is okay.  

If/When/How: How does having a background as a legal professional impact the work you do or the way you work?

SH: I believe having a legal background is beneficial in a multitude of ways. The new forced parental consent law that went into effect in Florida on July 1st includes legal documents, and because of my background, I know the importance of attention to detail and ensuring that every single thing is filled out accurately. 

I have firsthand experience of the complexity and confusion of people thrown into the legal field. As a paralegal, I’m versed in different areas of the law and feel confident in helping folks understand. I also have firsthand knowledge of how our local court system works,  which can be beneficial in helping young people obtain a judicial bypass if they can’t obtain parental consent. 

If/When/How: How can adult advocates best support young people who need access to abortion care?
SH: It’s simple: listen to and trust young people. Respect their autonomy and give them the power to make decisions that are best for them. Also, donate to abortion funds to help minors with logistical and financial barriers.

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