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Texas Senate Committee Advances Bill Adding Restrictions to Parental Involvement Law

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).

Background

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).