News Abortion

Mandatory Abortion ID Bill Advances in Texas Legislature

Andrea Grimes

Republicans want abortion providers to assume every patient is underage unless the patient can present an unspecified "valid governmental ID," which could end legal abortion care for undocumented Texans.

A Texas senate committee heard testimony Monday on a proposed anti-choice law that could shuffle more abused children and teenagers into Texas’ troubled foster care system, on the same day witnesses gave heartbreaking committee testimony about the deadly failures of that same system.

The GOP-majority Texas house approved the anti-choice bill, HB 3994, last week after nearly four hours of debate. Senate leaders swiftly scheduled it for public hearing early Monday morning. That chamber has less than two weeks to approve the bill and send it to the governor’s desk before the end of the legislative session.

The bill requires that abortion providers assume every patient is underage unless the patient can present an unspecified “valid governmental ID,” which could end legal abortion care for undocumented Texans, and places stringent restrictions on the process by which abused and abandoned teens can access abortion care.

Currently, minors who fear or experience abuse from their parents, or whose parents are unable to consent because they are absent, incarcerated, or deceased, must obtain a judicial bypass to access legal abortion care.

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In these cases—about 200 every year—a judge can stand in for the parent and grant the minor permission to access legal abortion.

Among a host of increased restrictions, HB 3994 would raise the evidentiary standard that minors—some as young as 10 years old, according to testimony from a researcher at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project who implored the committee to “remember that incest is real”—must fulfill to prove they are being abused. The measure would also require judges to report a minor’s abuse to law enforcement. Critics of the bill have said this mandate could put the minor in even more danger, either from abusive parents or from neglect in the state’s overburdened foster care system, should the children be removed from their homes.

Representatives from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops testified neutrally on the bill, which was heavily amended before it passed out of the House of Representatives, and questioned the law’s mandatory abuse reporting requirement.

A representative from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault testified against the bill, saying that the current process, built out of bipartisan consensus more than 15 years ago, works well to help abused teens.

“I’m hearing very little acknowledgement from the proponents of the bill that the parents’ rights they’re trying to protect are parents who are often negligent or abusive,” said Heather Busby, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ executive director, during public testimony on the bill.

Supporters of HB 3994, including an architect of the state’s original judicial bypass process created in 1999, indicated that they believed the process is being abused by untruthful minors looking to get secret abortions behind the backs of their loving parents.

“The parents might be loving, caring parents but the minor is giving testimony to the court to say just the opposite,” testified former Houston Rep. Joe Nixon (R).

Nixon testified that “there are a lot of competing interests the state has to determine here,” and said that “there is the life of the unborn that needs to be protected as well.”

One supporter of HB 3994 testified that she had had an abortion at age 17, and had been inappropriately coached by her lawyer on how to speak to the judicial bypass court.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) challenged HB 3994 supporters throughout the hearing, calling into question state Sen. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) assertion that “the entire point of the judicial bypass is to take the parent out of the discussion.”

“We’re talking about instances where the parent is not available, the parent has been the abusive person, the parent is on drugs, the parent can’t be found,” Rodriguez said. “There has to be a process by which a minor can give the services that she needs without the parent. That’s what this is all about.”

Opponents of the bill, many of them hotline volunteers for Jane’s Due Process, an Austin-based nonprofit that assists minors throughout the judicial bypass process, read stories of “Janes” with whom the organization has worked.

One witness recounted a story of a teenage girl who was beaten by her father for a late-night phone call, and another testified about a girl whose father was absent and whose mother was addicted to methamphetamine and unable to consent to her daughter’s abortion.

In the same hearing, the Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on a number of proposed reforms to the state’s troubled and underfunded Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), which Republican lawmakers have attempted to privatize in an effort to reduce what the Texas Observer last May called the department’s “deadly problem.”

DFPS reported that “more than one in 20 children killed by abuse or neglect in Texas in the past five years died while in state custody,” according to that magazine’s investigation.

The committee heard emotional testimony from supporters of what has been called “Colton’s Law,” named for 2-year-old Colton Turner, who was found dead in a shallow grave, buried after he suffered a head injury in July 2014 while his parents were able to evade law enforcement even as Child Protective Services searched for them, investigating abuse of the child.

A representative for DFPS appeared before the committee, but was unable to provide committee members with data on the number of endangered children who could be affected, or could not be located by CPS or law enforcement, if reforms to the system are not made, prompting a pointed and frustrated line of questioning from state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio).

“The [DFPS] commissioner’s not here,” Uresti said to the DFPS representative, gesturing to the empty witness table beside her. “It doesn’t seem like you agree it’s serious.” The DFPS representative promised to return later with the requested data.

The committee left bills heard on Monday pending, and the committee chair said he anticipated taking a vote on the bills Tuesday.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

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