The Austin Chronicle

Bill of the Week: Barriers to Bypass

By Mary Tuma, January 23, 2015, 5:25pm, Newsdesk

A bill filed by Rep. Phil King, R-Parker, gives us the first glimpse of what may be on the horizon for anti-choice lawmakers during the 84th Legislative session.

In Texas, women under 18 must secure parental permission to undergo an abortion. However, if a minor wishes to obtain an abortion without parental consent or notification she may obtain approval from a judge through a confidential act referred to as “judicial bypass.” Many of these minors are facing the threat of punishment or abuse from family members or partners, or don't have parents at all and seek bypass to evade dangerous situations. But anti-choice advocates deem judicial bypass an immoral “loophole” in navigating an abortion and have sought to make it more difficult.

King’s HB 723 appears to do just that: While the criteria to forgo parental notification is that a minor must show she is “mature and sufficiently well informed” and that it is not in her best interest or it would lead to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, the proposed legislation makes all qualifications mandatory, raising the burden of proof on minors and granting more latitude to the judges.

Susan Hays, legal director of Texas-based Jane’s Due Process, a legal aid non-profit that helps minors secure a judge’s order, considers the proposed rule unnecessarily harsh. “If a girl is being abused she must also prove she’s ‘mature’ and ‘informed’? How horrible to say that to a pregnant rape victim – you have to prove everything, being abused is not enough,” said Hays. "That's appalling."

Also, under King’s bill the court cannot appoint the same person to be both the minor’s attorney and guardian – this could prove to be a time impediment as the coupling of roles makes it more expeditious for minors, many of whom are abused (i.e. abusive parents), neglected and in need of emergency care.

Hays said she has represented several cases over the past 14 years in which young women were in dangerous circumstances where time was of the essence. “That’s why it’s necessary, that’s why it works,” she said of the dual appointments. And lately, time constraints have grown to be an even bigger factor as abortion laws have forced clinics to close, leaving access farther away for abortion-seeking minors.

Hays, who also serves as legal counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, expects more judicial bypass restrictive bills to crop up this session. Ardently anti-choice Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, has alluded to targeting judicial bypass. Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, may renew his (unsuccessful) 2013 bill to make judicial bypass harder to obtain. And chipping away at the legal bypass for minors will surely continue to be a major legislative policy goal for anti-choice groups Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life.

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