Following several hours of heated debate, the Texas legislature advanced a package of abortion restrictions on Thursday designed to make it extremely difficult for minors to obtain an abortion in a state that’s already severely restricted reproductive rights. One of the provisions in the omnibus bill would require all women seeking abortion services to present a government-issued ID.
A teenager in Texas who wants to have an abortion needs permission from one of their parents. If they want to get around that requirement, they can go through what’s called a judicial bypass procedure, which currently requires them to prove to a judge that they’re either mature enough to make the decision on their own or that notifying their parents about the procedure would not be in their best interest.
Most U.S. states have parental involvement requirements restricting minors’ abortion access, and some type of complicated judicial bypass process that requires pregnant teens to get permission from the court system if they don’t want to tell their parents. Teens in difficult family situations, like minors in the foster system and minors who have been the victims of abuse and assault, are typically the ones who rely on judicial bypass when they seek to end a pregnancy.
However, abortion opponents in the state claim that Texas’ law is filled with “loopholes” that make it too easy for teenagers to access abortion services. One of the most prominent anti-choice groups in the state, Texas Right To Life, made changing the judicial bypass process one of its top priority issues this year — spurring GOP lawmakers to introduce several different measures on the subject.
Most of the legislative proposals to reform the current judicial bypass process ended up getting folded into HB 3994, an omnibus measure approved by the Texas House on Thursday despite Democratic lawmakers’ attempts to thwart it.
Perhaps the most controversial provision in HB 3994 appears to mimic the voter ID laws that disenfranchise eligible voters from casting their ballots by requiring them to present government identification at the polls. Voter ID laws disproportionately impact people who are younger, lower income, non-white, and newly naturalized.
HB 3394 requires abortion doctors to assume that all of their patients are minors and request a government-issued ID to verify their age — similar to the way a bartender may approach all of their patrons. This threatens to pose an especially large burden for younger teens and immigrant women who may not have a drivers license.
On top of that, the measure would force minors to undergo mental health assessments before they may receive a judge’s permission to have an abortion; limit the counties where minors are allowed to initiate judicial bypass proceedings; require minors to disclose their personal information, like phone numbers and home addresses, to a judge; and allow the judge to wait three additional business days before deciding whether a minor may have an abortion.
“The thing that saddens me is the burden that it places on the child who is pregnant,” Darlene Byrne, a Travis County District Court judge who has previously presided over judicial bypass proceedings, told the Austin American-Statesman. “It would take a very sophisticated child to navigate this new law and figure out how to access these services, especially when they don’t have their parents’ support.” Byrne added that she wishes lawmakers would “look at it through the eyes of the child.”
Research shows that most teens do talk to their parents before deciding to have an abortion, particularly when they sense that their parents will support them in whatever choice they make. Reproductive rights proponents point out that the judicial bypass process is intended to serve as a safety net for vulnerable teens, and it’s cruel to place even more restrictions on young women who are in difficult situations.
“There are generally very compelling reasons why a young woman cannot or does not want to involve a parent in her decision to have an abortion,” Rita Lucido, a Houston family lawyer who co-founded the organization Jane’s Due Process, which provides legal representation for Texas minors seeking judicial bypass, said in a recent statement. Lucido has represented more than 150 teenagers seeking abortion services over the past 15 years, and her organization has found evidence that most Texas courts are already ill-equipped to help teens navigate the existing law.
Texas has already passed some of the most onerous abortion restrictions in the country, while simultaneously eviscerating the state-funded family planning network. A recent report found that half of the women in the state are struggling to access basic reproductive health services.
HB 3394 now heads to the state Senate, where anti-abortion Republicans arguably wield even more power than they do in the House.