June 2, 2015 — The Texas House on Friday voted 102-43 to approve changes made by the state Senate 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 Texas Tribune reports.
The bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for consideration. According to the Tribune, Abbott likely will sign the bill into law (Ura, Texas Tribune, 5/29).
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.
Currently, judges are required to rule on such petitions within two days, at which time the request is considered approved absent a judge's ruling. Under HB 3994, a judge would be required to rule on a minor's request within five days (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/26). The measure was amended to remove a provision stating that if the judge does not rule in that timeframe, the request is automatically denied. The amended bill does not provide any guidance for what happens if a ruling is not issued (Enlow, Houston Press, 5/29).
The bill was amended so that a judge is required to rule on a minor's request within five days (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/26). The measure was amended further to remove a provision stating that if the judge does not rule in that timeframe, the request is automatically denied (Houston Press, 5/29). Currently, judges are required to rule on such petitions within two days, at which time the request is considered approved absent a judge's ruling.
In addition, the state Senate amended the bill's 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 they show proof of identification. However, physicians would be allowed to provide abortion without a woman providing an ID. In such cases, physicians would be required to provide a report to the state on the abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/26).
The state Senate also amended the measure to allow for civil penalties of up to $10,000 for any individual found to have "intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with gross negligence" violated the measure (Texas Tribune, 5/29).
Some State Lawmakers Note Potential Legal Issues
Some state lawmakers who support abortion rights expressed concern that certain changes to the measure would not withstand potential legal challenges. Specifically, the lawmakers noted that changing the judicial review period from two to five days might go against Supreme Court precedent that requires states to provide judicial bypass laws that allow eligible minors to access abortion care "expeditious[ly]" and "effective[ly]."
Further, state Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) said the time it would take for minors to appeal a denied judicial bypass request or a subsequent appeals court's denial of the request could take months. Such a delay could put minors' health, safety and ability to access abortion at risk, Minjarez said.
Similarly, state Sen. Kirk Watson (D) said that the bill remaining silent on whether a bypass petition is approved or denied absent a judge's ruling could be as problematic as an automatic denial. "In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling," he said (Houston Press, 5/29).