Pro-life legislation making it more difficult for Texas judges to bypass parental notification when their children are seeking an abortion is gaining speed in the Lone Star State. The bill is sponsored by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and strengthens judicial bypass laws. After four hours of debate on the Texas Senate floor on Memorial Day, it received preliminary approval by a 20-11 vote margin. The bill now goes to a third reading as amended on Tuesday, May 26th.
The intent of the bill, in cases involving pregnant minors seeking a judicial bypass, is to protect the pregnant minor while also protecting parental rights.
Judicial bypass procedures are the legal process by which pregnant minors can seek court approval for an abortion, in cases where asking their parents for permission could endanger them.
The law also stipulates procedures to be followed during these court proceedings.
H.B. 3994 tightens the procedures that minors must complete, and is the first major pro-life legislation to pass in this legislative session.
One of those restrictions involves the location where minors may seek a judicial bypass. Under current law, the application can be filed in any county in the state. H.B. 3994 would require minors to seek a judicial bypass in the county where they live. An exception is made for counties with population under 10,000. In those cases, minors can file their application in a neighboring county, or in the county where the abortion procedure will be performed.
In addition, the burden of proof for obtaining an abortion has been raised. If the bill is signed into law, the minor will have to offer proof under the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” to overcome the legal presumption that notifying and requesting consent from a parent is in the minor’s best interest. The standard under current law is a “preponderance of the evidence.”
Moreover, as reported by Breitbart Texas, rulings by judges in judicial bypass cases would no longer be kept from the public. The rulings would be included in a report by the Texas Office of Court Administration, which is made public annually. The name of the minor involved would be kept anonymous. Until now, the names of the judges and the details of their rulings have been kept confidential, along with the names of the minors.
The pregnant minor would also have to appear before the court in person, and would be prohibited from appearing using videoconferencing, telephone conferencing, or other remote electronic means.
The Senate vote on Memorial Day ran largely along partisan lines, with one Democrat joining Republicans. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. a Democrat from Brownsville, frequently votes with Republicans on abortion legislation.
A controversial version of the House Bill which would have required physicians to presume that a pregnant woman was a minor, unless she showed a government issued ID to prove she was 18 years or older, was removed before the bill was considered on the Senate floor.
An amendment to the bill requires doctors to use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s age and identity, but allows the doctor to proceed with an abortion if the woman does not have an ID. Physicians will be required to file a report annually indicating how many abortions they performed without “proof of identity and age.”
“We must ensure that the judicial bypass process is used as intended, not frivolously but as a tool to protect minor victims from abuse,” said Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “HB 3994 strengthens parental rights, protects minors, and reduces unlawful abortions.”
The bill has the combined support of Texas Right to Life, Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Catholic Conference, and the Texans for Life Coalition.
“I am proud that the final legislation is supported by all the major pro-life groups in Texas,” continued Perry. “This bill could not have passed without the unified efforts of the various stakeholders, my fellow legislators, and the leadership of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and House Author Rep. Geanie Morrison.”
“We are thrilled that the Senate has given preliminary approval to this bill to reform the judicial bypass,” said Joe Pojman, President of Texas Alliance for Life. “This bill restores the right of parents to protect their minor daughters from abortion. We commend Sen. Perry for his strong defense of this wonderful bill.”
“The final version of the bill encompasses many needed reforms to the judicial process available to minors seeking an abortion without involvement from their parents,” said Emily Kebodeaux of Texas Right to Life. “We appreciate the leadership that both Senator Perry and Representative Morrison have shown by getting this crucial legislation a vote in the final days of the session.”
The senate will most likely get to the measure on third reading on Tuesday, May 25th.
If signed by Governor Greg Abbott, H.B. 3994 will become law on September 1, 2015.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2