May 26, 2015 — The Texas Senate on Monday voted 21-10 to give preliminary approval to a bill (HB 3994) that would tighten a state law permitting pregnant minors to obtain a court's permission to have an abortion instead of obtaining parental consent for the procedure, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Moravec, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/25).
The measure is expected to pass the chamber after a final vote later this week (McSwane, Austin American-Statesman, 5/25). According to the AP/Chronicle, the measure has already cleared the state House, but state lawmakers will have to agree on changes made to the legislation before submitting it to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/25).
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 increase the burden of proof that minors face when claiming that obtaining parental consent for abortion would lead to emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/21).
ID Provision Amended, Other Amendments Voted Down
State Sen. Charles Perry (R), who sponsored the legislation, amended a provision that would have required physicians to presume women were minors until they provided government-issued identification showing otherwise.
Under the new language, physicians still would be required to assume pregnant women are minors and request that they show proof of identification. However, physicians would be allowed to perform abortions without a woman providing an ID. In such cases, physicians would be required to provide a report to the state on the abortion (Mekelburg, Houston Chronicle, 5/25).
Further, according to the AP/Chronicle, Canadian and U.S. driver's licenses would be acceptable forms of identification to verify a woman's identity and age under the provision, although a driver's license from Mexico would not be acceptable (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/25).
Meanwhile, state lawmakers who support abortion rights proposed 14 amendments during debate over the measure on Monday. All the amendments were voted down 21-10 (Houston Chronicle, 5/25).
Opponents Cite Constitutional Concerns, Consider Legal Action
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) said the provision in the measure that extends the timeframe for a judge's ruling "infringes upon constitutional rights." According to the AP/Chronicle, the Supreme Court has ruled that parents may not exercise absolute veto power over a minor's abortion decision and that courts must rule on such cases promptly.
Similarly, Jane's Due Process Legal Director Susan Hays said, "The bill is rife with constitutional problems." The group said that it could pursue legal action against the measure if it becomes law (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/25).
State House Committee Advances Abortion Coverage Ban
In related news, the Texas House Calendars Committee on Sunday voted 8-0 to advance a bill (SB 575) that would prohibit most abortion coverage in plans sold through the state's federally operated health insurance marketplace, the Texas Tribune reports.
The measure now heads to the full state House for consideration (Ura/Aguilar, Texas Tribune, 5/24).
The Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) allows states to determine whether plans sold through the marketplace will include abortion coverage. In states that permit abortion coverage, the law requires insurers to segregate funds collected for abortion coverage from other premiums.
Currently, Texas permits marketplace plans to include abortion coverage. Overall, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, insurers in 10 states are banned from covering abortion, and 15 states prohibit insurers from covering abortion in plans sold through the marketplace (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/6).
On Saturday in a 7-1 vote, the Texas House State Affairs Committee amended the measure so that it would apply only to marketplace plans. The original bill also would have restricted abortion coverage in private insurance plans (Ura, Texas Tribune, 5/23).
Specifically, the bill would allow plans to cover abortion only when the procedure is necessary to save a woman's life or to prevent "substantial impairment of a major bodily function." The bill does not include exemptions for mental health risks. Further, the bill does not make exemptions for cases of rape or severe fetal anomalies.
To obtain coverage for an abortion that does not qualify as a medical emergency under the bill, women would have to purchase supplemental insurance plans (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/6).
According to the Tribune, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R) said he and state Rep. Byron Cook (R) reached an agreement ensuring that state House lawmakers would advance SB 575 to the full chamber. Specifically, Stickland said he would not file an amendment banning abortions sought because of fetal anomalies into an unrelated bill (SB 200) provided SB 575 moved forward.
The Texas House State Affairs Committee advanced the measure, but the state House Calendars Committee originally voted down the bill, with Cook, a supporter of the legislation, saying that "women sent a clear message that they weren't comfortable with this legislation." However, the Calendars Committee later reconvened and passed the bill. According to the Tribune, the second vote was held without six of the seven members who originally voted against the bill (Texas Tribune, 5/24).