The Texas State Senate passed a bill Monday night that will make it near-impossible for teenagers to obtain legal abortions without parental consent. The bill dismantled the judicial bypass process, which once gave Texas teens a viable option to get an abortion when their parent or legal guardian either refused to grant consent (abuse, incest) or couldn’t (because they’re dead, incarcerated, or have been deported). Not anymore.
Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, and the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy. The judicial bypass process there and in many other states is far from perfect, as Mother Jones reported last year, full of built-in delays and rife with opportunities for anti-abortion judges to verbally abuse and humiliate the abortion-seeking teen. But in Texas, at least, it remained somewhat intact.
Until now. HB 3994, whose full text you can read here, passed a preliminary vote last night after hours of debate, and will soon return to the House for minor tinkering before likely making its way to the governor’s desk to be signed. In the past, a judge had to rule on a judicial bypass appeal within two days, or else it was “deemed granted.” One of the bill’s most disturbing provisions gives judges the power to simply ignore a legal filing from an abortion-seeking teen. Now, the judge has five days to rule. If they don’t issue a ruling, the bill says, the appeal is “deemed to be denied.” In other words, those anti-abortion judges — and there are many in Texas — can choose not to act at all.
The bypass process once made it possible for teens to file their bypass requests in any county in the state. But under HB 3994, the teen is now also required to file her bypass request in her home county, or in a neighboring county if she lives somewhere with fewer than 10,000 residents. As the Texas Observer points out, the bill’s opponents say a minor could easily be recognized in a smaller county, jeopardizing her privacy.
As Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check points out, the bill’s backers have made it nakedly obvious that it’s meant as a sneaky ban on abortions for minors. Texas Alliance for Life, which helped draft the bill, tweeted that it’s meant to “protect parental rights” since the Supreme Court won’t just ban abortion outright:
Jane’s Due Process is a group that provides legal representation for teens seeking a judicial bypass; in a press release last night, its legal director Susan Hays called the bill “rife with constitutional problems,” adding, “ As written it invites a lawsuit against the state – even while the litigation on HB 2 has not yet finished.” (HB 2 is another The group says they will “consider legal action” if Governor Greg Abbott signs the bill into law, which he will.
People protesting the bill dressed in hospital gowns and carried signs reading “Here for Jane.” Image via Progress Texas/Twitter