'Children having children:' Nashville juvenile judge concerned with abortion ban

Juvenile Justice Center
Posted at 4:42 PM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 19:22:19-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Juvenile Court Judge in Davidson County is concerned about teen pregnancy skyrocketing after abortion was banned across Tennessee.

Before Roe v. Wade was overturned, she'd meet with around a dozen pregnant youth each year who wanted an abortion. Usually, they were unable to get a parent to sign off on it for various reasons.

Judge Sheila Calloway said some pregnant youth were worried about being kicked out of their home if their guardians found out they were pregnant. So, in special cases, they'd travel long distances to meet with a judge.

"Literally, we are having children having children," Calloway said. "There are a lot of people who have to have abortions based on how the parent or child might hurt them, or hurt their children or hurt the babies, and those voices aren’t being necessarily heard."

She would hear their cases and determine if it was in their best interest to terminate the pregnancy.

"Then I had some that literally may not have known who the person was who impregnated them, and those usually were from youth who were in a situation where they may have been raped or were in circumstances that did not lend well for them to get pregnant," Calloway said.

In 2019, there were more than 5,600 pregnancies and more than 4,900 births among Tennesseans between the ages of 15 and 19. Tennessee ranks top 10 nationwide for the highest teen birth rates, according to the Tennessee Department of Health's 2019 report.

TN Department of Health report
TN Department of Health report

"We’re in a state that doesn’t necessarily have good healthcare for all people, and a lot of the youth that we see in the juvenile court system are the ones that get left behind," Calloway said.

Judge Calloway said some teens were concerned about how they would afford formula and baby food.

"I think this could be more children being placed in the Department of Children's Services custody, and at a time where the department is already stretched with resources, stretched with foster homes,” Calloway said, “Adopt if that’s what a parent wants — we don’t have a whole lot of people knocking on their doors right now."

Most Republican state lawmakers support the abortion ban as it stands, but some Democrats plan to introduce exceptions to the law for rape and incest.

"I definitely am afraid that we are in a situation where there are going to be more children that are harmed by the law than we are helping," Calloway said.

There were 14 children from 10 to 14-year-olds who got abortions in 2019, according to the latest data available from the Tennessee Department of Health.