Texas Senate OKs Stricter Rules for Minors Seeking Abortions

Throughout the regular legislative session, which will finally end this weekend, Texas lawmakers have dreamed up all sorts of creative ways to stop women from getting abortions. Following the abortion bills in Texas is like playing a game of choose-your-own-adventure. What kind of pregnancy would you least want to go through with and how can Texas ensure that you'll be forced go through with it anyway? Some of the lawmakers' proposals were too wacky even for our wacky state. Representative Matt Schaefer, for instance, introduced a proposal that would have banned women who are pregnant with abnormal fetuses from getting an abortion after 20 weeks, but the bill his amendment is attached to remains stuck in committee.

So, women who perhaps wanted to be pregnant until they discovered that their baby could die shortly after birth and so no longer want to be pregnant might be in the clear. Score 1 for those ladies. Let's move on to the next abortion-seeking group: those under the age of 18 who have been abused by their parents and don't want to tell their parents that they want an abortion. Should we make it harder for that very specific group of women to get an abortion? You bet, says a bill passed by Senate on Memorial Day and appears poised to become law. 

Currently, Texas law says minors can't get an abortion unless they have consent from a parent or a legal guardian. But like many laws that seem too crazy to apply to everyone, there are important exceptions here. If an abortion-seeking female under the age of 18 is worried that getting parental consent could ”lead to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse,” then she can go to a judge, who may allow her to bypass the consent rule and get an abortion without telling her parents. Judges now have two business days to rule on the minor's request, and if the judge doesn't make a ruling on time, then the minor's request is considered approved. Abortion advocates say that about 300 women request a judicial bypass each year. It's those 300 women that the Texas lawmakers are now going after.

Under HB 3994, which passed the Texas Senate 21-10 on Monday, judges now get a full five business days to make a ruling on a juvenile's abortion. After five days, if the judge doesn't do anything, it's not really clear what happens — the bill had originally said that the request should be automatically denied, until the bill's Senate sponsor Charles Perry agreed to take that provision out. The bill also requires women to go to a judge in their home county, or a neighboring county if the population is under 10,000. Current Texas law is more flexible, allowing women to seek a judicial bypass from any judge they choose.  

The bill makes Texas law more strict in other ways, too. Minors would be required to give judges more proof that telling their parents about their abortion could hurt them. Today, minors need only to show a “preponderance of the evidence” to the judge, but this bill updates that requirement to “clear and convincing” evidence. Sure, you might say you're being abused at home, but without some bruise marks or video evidence, can we really believe you?

And when a woman is ready to get an abortion, the doctor who performs it takes on a special new job usually reserved for liquor store clerks and club bouncers. Under the bill, a doctor must use “due diligence” to figure out a woman’s identity and age. If she looks too young to be getting an abortion without consent from a parent or judge, then the doctor is supposed to ask for an ID. If the woman can't provide an ID, the doctor can still perform an abortion, as long as the doctor then reports to the state afterward how many abortions he or she performed that year without “proof of identity and age.”

HB 3994 is now going back to the House for approval of its final changes. If the House agrees with the Senate's version of the bill by Sunday, it will go to Governor Greg Abbott's desk. Meanwhile, here's a crazy idea we're just throwing out there: maybe in the next choose-your-own-abortion-adventure legislative session, we can go after the minors who have been impregnated by the very judge they must seek abortion consent from.

Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein. 

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn