News Abortion

Oklahoma Passes Harsh Parental Consent Bill, While Louisiana Teens Can Turn Parents in for Abuse

Robin Marty

Oklahoma's governor has signed into law a bill that will make getting an abortion much more difficult for teens, while in Louisiana a new bill would make it possible to charge parents with child abuse for "coercing" daughters into abortion.

Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law a bill that will make accessing an abortion much more difficult for teens, even with parental consent. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, a new bill would make it possible to charge parents with child abuse for trying to “coerce” daughters out of carrying pregnancies to term.

Fallin’s signature on HB 1361 wasn’t much in doubt, based on the governor’s past support of abortion restrictions. Minors seeking an abortion in the state now must have the consent of a parent or guardian who has a valid ID and provides a signing, notarized consent form, or the minors may seek a judicial bypass, but the bill stipulates that they can only do so in the county in which they reside. If the judge in that county will not authorize the bypass, teens are left with no safe, legal option.

In Louisiana, lawmakers are considering making it a crime to “coerce” a teen into an abortion, defining such coercion as child abuse. The bill also expands the definition of coercion to include threats of “deprivation of food and shelter.”

The addition of “threats of deprivation” is reminiscent of the February case of a pregnant Texas teen whose parents were accused of trying to coerce her into an abortion by taking away her cell phone and car until she agreed to terminate the pregnancy. The teen testified that they attempted to “make her miserable so that she would give in to the coercion and have the abortion.” The parents denied the allegations, but a judge ruled that the parents must return the car to allow her to get to work and school and pay half of the hospital bills when she gave birth unless she got married in the following months.
While most people would agree that no one, including parents, should threaten a teen into an unwanted abortion, the new language could set the stage for more court challenges in which parents and their children are pitted against each other amid disagreements about what constitutes “threat of deprivation.” Meanwhile, just a short ways away in Oklahoma, a parent who wants to support the decision of a teen who wants an abortion will find it increasingly difficult to do so.

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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.

Commentary Abortion

Texas Legislators Are Putting Pregnant Teens in Harm’s Way

Emily Rooke-Ley

If HB 3994 passes through the senate, Texas’ parental consent law will be even stricter than it is already, forcing minors who cannot obtain permission to navigate a slew of complicated, humiliating, and sometimes impossible hurdles to receive reproductive health care.

I remember my first time answering the hotline for Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas. Holding back tears, I listened anxiously to a young woman, whom I will call Gaby, explain her home life and her pregnancy, asking me to help her obtain a judicial bypass, which would allow her to obtain an abortion without a parent or guardian’s consent. She was just as mature as I am—probably more. “Well the thing is,” she said to me, her voice exuding a kind of tough conviction, “I just can’t bring a baby into this world right now.” 

Sadly, some Texas legislators think this is not Gaby’s decision to make. If HB 3994 passes through the senate, Texas’ parental consent law will be even stricter than it is already, forcing minors who cannot obtain permission to navigate a slew of complicated, humiliating, and sometimes impossible hurdles to receive reproductive health care.

Parental notification laws presume that young women like Gaby are incapable of making their own pregnancy decisions and must defer to a parent—even if doing so is logistically impossible or downright dangerous.

Gaby’s story, a composite of the stories I often hear through the hotline, is just one example of whom this bill affects—and why, really, parental consent requirements just makes no sense.

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Gaby grew up without a father. To this day, at age 16, she has no idea where he might be, or if he even knows she exists. Gaby generously articulated that her mother “tries”; she is addicted to methamphetamine, which causes her to be uninvolved at best, and emotionally and physically abusive at worst. Gaby has four younger siblings, all of whom live under one roof in a small, two-bedroom apartment. She attends high school, works at a fast-food restaurant, and takes care of her younger siblings, making sure there is always enough food for everyone—especially when her mother disappears periodically or is too high to function. Gaby is in a committed relationship with her boyfriend, who helps her with her younger siblings and her mother. When she discovered she was pregnant, her boyfriend reacted as all partners should—with a promise of support regardless of her pregnancy decision. 

Gaby immediately knew that she did not want to continue her pregnancy. “On top of the fact that I actually just have no way of raising a baby right now,” she told me, “I really just really don’t want one. I need to finish school and get out of here.” When I asked her if she thought her mom would agree to consent to an abortion, she laughed a sort of sad and bitter chuckle: “Ha. My mom can’t even get up in the morning to give my 4-year-old brother cereal. You think she’s going to drive two hours to the abortion clinic and sign papers for me? Not a chance. She’d just use this as a good excuse to kick me out—one less mouth to feed.” 

Thanks to the judicial bypass law currently in place, Gaby was able to receive the help she needed. But HB 3994, which is now awaiting a senate hearing, will make the judicial bypass safety net inaccessible for most pregnant teens in Texas, effectively banning abortion for this population.

Ostensibly, the purpose of parental consent laws is to ensure that stable adult figures are involved in the important decisions in their children’s lives. As Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), the author of HB 3994 stated on the house floor, “It would be traumatic for a teen to have an abortion without her parents there.” This may be true for some. I know that when I had an abortion at age 20, I wished that my mom could have been there. But I am not Gaby, and my mom is not Gaby’s mom.

This kind of presumptuous and utopian rhetoric from politicians such as Rep. Morrison is exactly what prohibits other legislators and the general public from having a realistic understanding of whom these laws impact. Not all teens have a supportive and stable parent—or even a parent at all. This rhetoric is so misleading precisely because it is disingenuous; these politicians are not actually concerned with the lives of pregnant teens. Instead, they are on a crusade to stop abortions, even when the decision to end the pregnancy is agreeably pragmatic and reasonable. At the very least, politicians should not justify their intrusion into these girls’ lives under the guise of sincere empathy.

It is a new low for anti-choice legislators to insert themselves so callously into the complicated and unique lives of each of these young women. Those who voted for HB 3994, most without engaging in meaningful conversation with opponents of the bill, cannot possibly understand the circumstances that exist within this vulnerable population or the grave dangers to which they are exposing these young women.

After a long night at the capitol listening to a one-sided debate on the house floor, I returned to answering the Jane’s Due Process hotline as usual. A 17-year-old was calling, in tears, from the bathroom stall at her high school. Her mother had just died and her father was in prison. She needed an abortion, as she put it. Come January 1, 2016, if the bill is signed into law, I will have to tell people in her situation, “That may not be an option.”