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New Texas Abortion Law Will Affect Most Vulnerable Teen Girls

Abortion wasn’t front and center during the 2015 legislative session, but Republicans did pass a set of regulations affecting teenage girls who want permission from a judge to obtain an abortion.



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If you’re keeping score, anti-abortion groups were 1 for 2 during this year’s legislative session. One major bill they wanted died, but another passed and is awaiting Governor Greg Abbott’s signature. The new law will only affect girls under 18 who are asking a judge to grant an abortion.

Under Texas law, a minor must get permission from a parent to get an abortion. But there is a built-in exception if a minor’s parents are in jail, deported or gone — or if she fears abuse or retribution from a parent. In those cases, she can ask a judge for permission through a process called judicial bypass.

Anti-abortion groups contended the process was too easy and the new law provide a much-needed revamp of the rules.

Emily Horne of Texas Right to Life called the previous process “too loose” because teens could use judicial bypass to avoid telling their parents about the pregnancy.

“Oftentimes the minor is very young and very scared, and may not even know all of her options, may not even know what her parents may say,” Horne said. “It’s a very big decision for a parent to be cut out of.”

Judicial bypass cases are anonymous, and there is little data about them, according to Tina Hester, executive director of Jane’s Due Process. The organization works directly with pregnant teens who need help getting judicial bypass.

“There have been no complaints that I’m aware of from judges saying that girls are abusing this situation,” Hester said.

When it goes into effect in 2015, the new law will add so many barriers that getting a bypass will be almost impossible, she added.

For example, the bill would require most teens to see a local judge in their home county, even if the abortion clinic is hours away in a big city. There is an exception for counties of less than 10,000 in population.

Hester says that’s not enough to protect a girl’s anonymity in small towns. Everyone at the local courthouse will easily guess what is going on.

“What normal 17 year-old goes down to the courthouse, by themselves and without their parents?” Hester asked.

Less than 3 percent of abortions in Texas are among girls under 18. And most of those girls do get consent from their parents – it’s estimated that only about ten percent seek judicial bypass.

Rita Lucido is a family law attorney in Houston. She also volunteers through Jane’s Due Process to represent teenagers seeking a bypass.

Lucido said the teenage girls using bypass are already facing difficult situations: “[They are] kids who already have babies who are basically homeless, kids whose parents have kicked them out and they’ve sought shelter with another relative because their parents beat them.”

The parental notification law dates back to 1999 and was signed by then Texas Governor George W. Bush. It included the bypass process. Later amendments required the teen to not only notify a parent, but obtain his or her consent.

The bypass process originally required a judge to hold a hearing quickly for the teenage girl, and if the judge refused to make a ruling, the girl automatically got permission to get the abortion anyway.

But the new regulations will do away with the automatic permission. Lucido fears her clients could be trapped in the pregnancy.

“If she comes across an ideologically motivated judge who refuses to schedule a hearing, the law doesn’t give her a way to force a ruling on her application. She’s in a sort of legal limbo,” Lucido explained.

But supporters of the new law believe the new rules will help rescue teens from abusive situations and motivate other teens to involve their parents if at all possible.

State senator Van Taylor, a Republican representing Plano and other Dallas suburbs, co-sponsored the bill in the senate.

“On an issue as paramount as the life of an unborn child, the state should not be severing parental involvement,” he said in a statement. “I’m a proud co-sponsor of House Bill 3994 which seeks to promote parental notification when a child considers an abortion.”

But Tina Hester believes the real intent of the law is to stop abortions and score points among pro-life voters.

“They’ve already dismantled the clinic system. They’ve basically shut down half the clinics in Texas,” Hester said. “And until Roe v. Wade is overturned, they’re just trying to chip away.”

Still, anti-abortion groups did not get everything they wanted from the Texas Legislature this year.  

They failed to pass a bill that would forbid private insurance plans from covering abortion, or at least plans sold through the Affordable Care Act exchange.

The bypass bill originally included a controversial amendment that would have required women of all ages to show government identification before getting an abortion. The amendment did not survive.

Abortion advocates contend the new judicial bypass law could be stalled or stopped in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bellotti v. Baird that judicial bypass procedures for minors must be anonymous and expeditious, and the advocates claim the new Texas law could be unconstitutional on those grounds.

In the meantime, Texas is still fighting a court battle to uphold part of an abortion law that passed two years ago during the 2013 legislative session. That law required abortions to be performed only in surgical centers, but that requirement is on hold until the case is decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. A decision in that case is expected any day now from



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