May 21, 2015 — The Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill (HB 3994) that would tighten a state law allowing pregnant minors to obtain a court's permission to have an abortion instead of obtaining parental consent for the procedure, AP/KXXV reports (AP/KXXV, 5/19).
The legislation, which passed the state House last week, now heads to the full state Senate for consideration (Ura, Texas Tribune, 5/19).
Currently, minors can apply for a judicial bypass in any Texas county. Minors seeking judicial bypass must prove at least one of three grounds: that they are well-informed and mature enough to obtain an abortion without parental notification; that it is not in their best interests to notify their parents of the procedure; or that notifying their parents would cause emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
HB 3994 would require minors to apply for bypass in their county of residence, an adjacent county if their home county has fewer than 10,000 residents or in the county in which they plan to have the procedure. In addition, the bill would require physicians to assume pregnant women are minors until they show a "valid government record of identification" showing they are not. Further, the bill would increase the burden of proof that minors face when claiming that obtaining parental consent for abortion would lead to emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
In addition, the bill was amended so that a judge is required to rule on a minor's request within five days, and a request is considered denied if the judge does not issue a ruling in that time frame. By contrast, judges currently are required to rule on such petitions within two days, at which time the request is considered approved absent a judge's ruling.
Meanwhile, the bill also was amended to remove a provision that would have made public the names of judges who decide judicial bypass cases.
Concerns About Legislation
Reproductive health advocates have said that the bill would restrict undocumented immigrant women's access to abortion in the state (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/19).
In addition, both opponents and supporters of abortion rights said the legislation, if enacted, could spur legal challenges (AP/KXXV, 5/19). According to the Texas Tribune, U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds that states can have parental involvement laws if they offer a confidential and timely judicial bypass option that provides an "effective opportunity" for minors to obtain an abortion (Texas Tribune, 5/19).
Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said the provision that would deny a minor's bypass request if the judge does not issue a ruling within five days could be challenged on constitutional grounds "without any realistic benefit" (AP/KXXV, 5/19).
Texas Budget Proposal Would Bar Affiliates of Abortion Providers From Cancer Screening Program
In related news, a Texas House and Senate conference committee on Wednesday reached an agreement on a proposed budget that would prohibit clinics affiliated with abortion providers from participating in a women's cancer screening program, the Texas Tribune reports (Ura, Texas Tribune, 5/20).
The state's Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program uses state and federal funds to provide no-cost cancer screenings and diagnostic tests to low-income women ages 21 to 64 who do not have health insurance or are underinsured.
The Texas Senate budget proposal and Texas House budget proposal both would have reduced or eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood to participate in the BCCS program by creating a tiered system for allocating money.
Under the tiered system, public entities, such as state-funded community clinics, would have received priority for the money, followed by private clinics. Meanwhile, private clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, would have received funding for the screening program only if money was left from the first two tiers (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/24).
Details of Conference Committee Agreement
According to the Tribune, the conference committee scrapped the tiered funding system out of a concern that clinics that do not perform abortions might not have received funding under the arrangement.
Instead, the conference committee's budget agreement would bar all facilities affiliated with abortion providers from receiving funding under the BCCS program. Under state law, Planned Parenthood facilities that perform screenings for cancer are barred from performing abortions if they receive taxpayer funding.
According to the Tribune, the budget provision is intended to target 17 Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas currently serve roughly 10% of women participating in the BCCS program. Specifically, affiliates of Planned Parenthood in fiscal year 2014 served nearly 3,000 women and received about $1.2 million in funding under the program.
Under the agreement, clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers could still receive BCCS funding if the state cannot find other eligible providers for the program in certain areas.
Planned Parenthood Voices Opposition
Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director at Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said "certain members of the budget conference committee have made clear that they prioritize politics over protecting access to life saving cancer screenings for Texas women" (Texas Tribune, 5/20).