Three separate bills were introduced by Republican lawmakers in the Texas State House over the past two weeks, each attacking provisions of the state’s “Judicial-Bypass” process. Judicial-Bypass allows underage girls to seek approval through the court system in order to have an abortion without parental notification. The confidential procedure was established in 1999, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision that forbid parents from having an absolute veto over a daughter’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. The most controversial of the three new bills requires judges who permit abortions via Judicial-Bypass be named publicly, while another attempts to limit the amount of venues that a girl can apply for a bypass. The third bill also requires data of applications and the location of courts that grant approvals to be published and available. The Texas Right to Life Organization assisted the lawmakers with drafting the 21 total proposals. All three bills have been sent to committee, but no hearings have been scheduled as yet.
Even with the Supreme Court ruling, 38 states require some kind of parental notification beforehand. The Judicial-Bypass process is designed for minors, in which parental notification is either impossible or potentially harmful to the child. One such example is when the girl risks abuse if they were to notify a parent, whether physical, emotional, or sexual. Another application of the process includes cases in which parents refuse consent. In Texas, an estimated 20 percent of all underage abortions are conducted using the Judicial-Bypass process. This accounts for 300-500 abortions per year.
The most controversial of the three bills, introduced by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), aims to name judges who approve Judicial-Bypass abortions. While a few other states have limited the number of counties that a minor can apply for Judicial-Bypass, and Alabama has enacted a measure that allows for cross-examination of a minor in the courtroom during the process, the Texas proposal to name judges is a first. This isn’t the first time, however, that Texas legislators attempted the measure. A similar bill fell short of passage in 2005 due to procedural error. Simmons’ Chief of Staff, Ben Lancaster, defends the measure stating, “Nobody knows what decisions they make, nobody knows if this really is a pro-choice or pro-life judge or whatever, because the decisions aren’t public,”
Not surprisingly, this proposal has drawn a hailstorm of criticism. One prominent opponent, Texas attorney Susan Hayes, who represents the group, Jane’s Due Process, states “They want the judges’ heads on a plate. It is absolutely the goal to punish them at the ballot box.” Another opponent, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said, “To further obstruct access to a minor facing a very traumatic situation seems, at best, cruel. Some of my peers don’t want to stop until there is no access to abortion, period.” Even if the bills are passed legislatively, they would likely face heavy judicial scrutiny, as questions of constitutionality and breach of confidentiality would certainly arise given the 1999 Supreme Court ruling and the likelihood of multiple legal challenges by both teens and interest groups.
AP/Yahoo – Eva Ruth Moravec
Dallas Morning News – Brittney Martin
Mother Jones – Molly Redden