A Texas Republican has proposed a small wording change to a law that allows abused and abandoned teenagers to obtain abortion care in the state without a parent’s permission. His critics say that change could effectively end abortion access for some of the state’s most marginalized and vulnerable youth.
The Texas House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee heard the bill on Tuesday afternoon, when more than 90 Texans signed up to oppose the new restrictions and a dozen registered support in favor of the bill. The bill’s author, state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), opened the hearing by saying that so much opposition to his bill had to be a computer “glitch.”
King then emphasized that the bill was not brought to him “by any right-to-life group”—a potentially veiled reference to lobby groups like Americans United for Life and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which write legislation for anti-choice lawmakers—but said that HB 723 came out of his own interest in the issue.
HB 723 would change the word “or” to “and” in a state statute that allows some adolescent Texans—many of whose parents abuse them, have abandoned them, or are deceased or incarcerated—to obtain a “judicial bypass” that allows them to access abortion without a parent’s consent. The bill would thereby require youth to prove that they satisfy all three, rather than just one, of the requirements for a bypass.
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Current state requirements are such that Texas minors can show they are “mature and sufficiently well informed” about their abortion decision, that notification of a parent would not be in the teen’s best interest, or that notification of a parent “may lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.”
“Many teenagers cannot meet all three grounds,” said Tina Hester, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that helps teens navigate the judicial bypass process.
In a press release issued by Texas’ new Trust. Respect. Access. coalition, Hester said King’s bill would especially affect younger teens.
“Particularly younger abused teenagers who may not necessarily be able to prove maturity,” said Hester. “Or mature teens living on their own because the parents aren’t in the picture, who cannot prove abuse but are logistically unable to get parental consent.”
During Tuesday’s committee hearing, Rep. King said he might be amenable to removing the “and” language from HB 723 because of concerns about potential “constitutional problems,” an issue raised after he filed the bill earlier this year. King acknowledged that the “and” language had the potential to render the bill unconstitutional.
King’s bill would also mandate that a teen seeking a judicial bypass be appointed a guardian ad litem and an attorney ad litem who are not the same individual; current law allows an attorney ad litem to also serve as a teen’s guardian ad litem. King said that he believed this allowance did not encourage “best practices.”
After an hour-long hearing, house judiciary chair Rep. John Smithee struggled to list all the names of Texans who had registered in opposition to the bill, adding that he “appreciated” members of the public not extending the length of the hearing by testifying and offering their input.
The bill was left pending in committee.