News Abortion

Congress Yet Again Proposes Federal Parental Consent Law

Robin Marty

Once more the Republican controlled House puts introducing more anti-choice legislation as their number one priority.

For years, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has introduced the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, a bill meant to stop teens under 18 from going to a state without a parental consent or parental notification law in order to obtain an abortion.

And for years, the bill has gone nowhere.  But this year it actually got a hearing.

Supporting the bill was University of St. Thomas professor Theresa Collett, who called the bill “constitutionally sound.”  Then again, she said the same about numerous anti-choice legislative bills in Oklahoma that have been held up in the courts for years now.

Ros-Lehtinen stated during the hearing that:

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CIANA is a critical piece of legislation that ensures that parental rights are upheld, while promoting the inherent dignity of the unborn. The majority of the American people and more than 30 state legislatures have made it clear that parents have the right to know whether their child is trying to undergo an abortion.

“Parental rights” are upheld, and the “unborn” are protected. There is, of course, no mention of rights or needs of the pregnant teen.

As more states push legislation that requires parental consent and notification, as well as try to tighten requirements for getting a judicial bypass on notification rules, expect bills like CIANA to continue to gain support from the anti-choice activists who want to literally trap teens into giving birth.

News Law and Policy

Battle Over LGBTQ Rights Throws House Floor Into Disarray—Again

Christine Grimaldi

Two anti-LGBTQ amendments that made it into the same energy and water appropriations bill did not appease conservatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) charged that the amendments constituted support for North Carolina’s discriminatory, anti-transgender "bathroom bill."

A partisan battle over LGBTQ rights tanked a routine energy and water appropriations bill Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 305-112 vote reflected frustration on both sides of the aisle about how the federal government treats LGBTQ people while their rights are increasingly under attack by state-level Republicans, including a fresh lawsuit filed against the Obama administration over its recent guidance on transgender rights.

House lawmakers appeared to have reached a truce late Wednesday on an amendment to nullify language undoing President Obama’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures for federal contractors found in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (HR 4909).

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, attempted last week to counter the NDAA provision as an amendment to a House appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 military construction and veterans affairs. Democrats led chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after GOP leaders undermined passage of the amendment, holding open the vote and convincing seven Republicans to switch their “aye” votes to “noe.”

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Democrats at the time accused House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) of subverting regular order to appease anti-LGBTQ members of their party.

In a reversal, the House on Wednesday adopted Maloney’s amendment to the fiscal year 2017 energy and water appropriations bill (HR 5055) on a bipartisan 223-195 vote. Forty-three Republicans voted in favor of the amendment after Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) added language amounting to a religious exemption for federal contractors.

The amendment would have applied “except as required by the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.”

Maloney initially hailed the vote on the amendment. “After House Republican Leadership broke their own rules to rig a vote and stack the deck for discrimination—tonight proved that equality will always win,” he said in a statement.

Despite the concession, a number of conservatives informed GOP leadership Thursday morning that they would not vote for the overall legislation, citing objections to the Maloney amendment, Politico reported. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), an increasingly vocal advocate for transgender rights, voted to pass the appropriations bill. Ros-Lehtinen’s son publicly came out as transgender this month.

Two anti-LGBTQ amendments that made it into the same energy and water appropriations bill did not appease conservatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) charged that the amendments constituted support for North Carolina’s discriminatory HB 2 law forcing transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity. Pelosi said that the amendments would further encourage the nationwide spread of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

Reps. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL) authored the amendments. Pittenger characterized his amendment as an attempt to “block President Obama’s bullying of North Carolina,” and Byrne, to “protect religious freedom.”

Maloney joined all but six Democrats in voting down the energy and water spending. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office told Rewire that the final vote was doomed from the start.

“Democrats already opposed this bill because of poison-pill riders; the anti-LGBT amendments only solidified that vote,” a Hoyer spokesperson said via email. “But let’s be clear, Republicans can’t blame their bill going down on us—it was their own members that took it down because it banned discrimination.”

Each party tried to foist the blame for the failed appropriations vote on the other.

Ryan during his weekly press conference lambasted Democrats for voting down the appropriations bill after they got the Maloney amendment. “What we learned today is that the Democrats were not looking to advance an issue but to sabotage the appropriations process,” he said.

In a statement to Rewire, a Pelosi spokesperson reiterated Hoyer’s assessment that the appropriations bill could not overcome “the Republicans’ insistence in inserting controversial riders.”

News Abortion

New Texas Bill Would Dramatically Increase Hurdles for Abused and Neglected Teens Seeking Abortion

Andrea Grimes

On Memorial Day 2015, the Texas Senate passed an anti-abortion bill that would make it far harder for abused, abandoned, and neglected minors who rely on “judicial bypass” to obtain an abortion. The bill would also require doctors who provide abortion care to demand government ID from their patients.

UPDATE, March 27, 2:10 p.m.: The Texas Senate gave its final approval to HB 3994 on Wednesday, with lawmakers voting along party lines to pass the new restrictions on Texas’ judicial bypass law. The Texas house must approve the upper chamber’s changes to the bill before it can go to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

The Texas Senate gave preliminary approval on Monday afternoon—Memorial Day 2015— to an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would make it far harder for abused, abandoned, and neglected minors who rely on “judicial bypass” to obtain an abortion. The bill would also require doctors who provide abortion care to demand government ID from their patients.

After a nearly four-hour debate during which Democratic senators tried to parse the muddy language of HB 3994—the language of which has been derided even by anti-choice conservatives as confusing and unconstitutional—the chamber voted along party lines to approve a modified—and, critics say, even muddier—version of the original bill approved by the Texas house earlier this month. The bill’s sponsor and senate Republicans rejected more than a dozen amendments proposed by Democrats.

In the senate’s version of the bill—a combination of this substitute bill and this amendment language by sponsor Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)—it is up to doctors who provide abortion care to demand a form of government ID from their patients and specifically report to the state health department about any abortion care they provide to a patient who does not show valid government identification. Language in the bill is based in part on a Texas Family Code statute, which excludes drivers’ licenses from Mexico from the list of valid identification options doctors may seek from patients.

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Current Texas law, signed into law more than 15 years ago by then-Gov. George W. Bush, requires that minors have the permission of a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion. Pregnant minors who seek abortion care without parental consent must go through a judicial bypass process. The new bill would dramatically raise the hurdles minors would face when seeking a judicial bypass.

Currently, minors must prove to a judge in any county in Texas that they are either: mature enough to make a decision on their own about their pregnancy, that it is not in their best interest to notify their parents of their pregnancy, or that notification of parents under these circumstances would lead to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. HB 3994 changes nearly every part of that existing process to make it more burdensome for abused, neglected, and abandoned pregnant minors seeking an abortion.

In a statement following the mostly partisan senate vote—one anti-choice Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) is a co-sponsor of HB 3994—legal counsel and co-founder of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that assists minors in the judicial bypass process, called it “rife with constitutional problems.”

“As written it invites a lawsuit against the state—even while the litigation on HB 2 has not yet finished,” said Susan Hays, referencing the omnibus anti-abortion bill passed despite state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster in 2013, which has shuttered dozens of legal abortion facilities across the state.

The Texas Alliance For Life, which helped Texas Republicans draft the bill and its many iterations and anti-choice amendments, tweeted during the debate that HB 3994 was a backdoor ban on abortion care for minors, saying that “we want to protect parents’ rights, knowing that SCOTUS will not allow states to ban all abortions.”

Perry denied that the bill is intended to limit access to abortion care in Texas.

Between 200 and 300 Texan children and teens, some who are survivors of incest and sexual assault, go through a judicial bypass process each year because their parents are deceased, abusive, incarcerated, or otherwise incapable of safely guiding their children through decisions about an unintended and unwanted pregnancy.

Judicial bypass does not obligate a minor to seek abortion care, but without it, a minor who cannot obtain parental consent has no choice but to carry their pregnancy to term. The process allows a minor to decide between abortion, adoption, or parenting.

The new restrictions would raise the burden of proof that abused, abandoned, and neglected minors must meet when taking their case to a judge, and would give judges five business days, rather than two business days, to rule on a minor’s judicial bypass application. This delay could extend the process of judicial bypass by more than a week and push some minors past the threshold when legal abortion care is allowed in the state.

After five days with no ruling, the new law considers the bypass to have been automatically denied, rather than automatically granted as under current statute. And new venue restrictions under the law would also bar most teens from filing for a bypass outside their home county, or outside the county where their doctor is located, putting rural teens at risk of being recognized and harassed at their local courthouse.

During debate on Monday, Democrats said that the law is unclear as to whether it even requires a judge to rule on the judicial bypass application at all, or whether minors would need to appeal directly to a higher court—without a record of denial from the lower court—to continue the bypass process.

Perry said during the debate that he “believed” no judge would decline to rule on a case where parents were abusive and that he “hoped” judges would grant bypasses in cases of incest, adding that HB 3994 was “not about distrust at all, it’s about making sure there’s a process in place.”

During earlier hearings on earlier versions of the bill, anti-choice Republicans indicated that they believed that teens were lying to otherwise loving parents in trying to obtain judicial bypasses, and that judges wanted clarification on the existing law. However, the only judge who spoke out publicly on the law said that she was against it, saying that it could put both her, and minors who seek bypasses in her court, in danger because of confidentiality concerns and new reporting requirements that aggregate data on judicial bypass approvals.

HB 3994 also requires a judge to report any abuse reported by a minor seeking judicial bypass to local law enforcement, which is then required to investigate claims of abuse. This effectively ensures that abusers will become aware of their child’s pregnancy if that child decides to go to court for their right to abortion without parental consent, potentially putting those pregnant Texans in danger of further abuse.

HB 3994 will need one more largely procedural vote from the senate before it is passed back to the house for its concurrence on the changes to the original bill language.