The Outlook Worsens for Teens and Judicial Bypass

The Texas Legislature isn’t done in their quest to further limit access to abortion, a constitutionally protected, legal medical procedure. They’re continuing to pick a fight with the group of people least able to defend themselves—Texas teens.

Instructions on how to oppose this bill are at the end. If you wish, just read the bold paragraph, then skip to the end & make calls to representatives’ office.

Rep. Geanie Morrison’s HB 3994 throws knock-out punches left and right, targeting both teens needing to obtain a bypass (and here’s why they might need one) and judges who consider the cases.

In brief, this bill greatly complicates, unnecessarily lengthens, and greatly increases the cost of the bypass procedure while removing almost all judicial discretion and creating such a high burden of proof for the minor that it will be all but impossible to obtain a bypass. It is the Voter ID of abortion access. It also puts a target square on the back of judges who hear these cases by requiring more strict records be kept than are legally necessary. 

The details, if you are a detail person:

  1. The bill extends the time in which a court must rule. Right now, courts must rule within 2 days, or the bypass is automatically granted. HB3994 turns 2 into 5 days. This is one of the most harmful provisions. Each week that passes when a person is pregnant and wants to terminate the pregnancy adds cost and complication to the procedure. Minors already lag behind adults in determining that they are pregnant (ie, they are farther along when the realize they are pregnant); a 5-day delay could have devastating consequences.
  2. It changes the standard of review on which the court must rule from a preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing is a much higher threshold for a minor to meet, and gives the judge far less leeway to use discretion in considering the evidence. This, too, is one of the most serious and harmful changes in this bill.
  3. It contains such a confusing section on what a judge must, shall, or must not, or shall not consider in making a determination that it will create more confusion than already exists. It muddies waters that are clear, if not ideal, in the current statute.
  4. It says doctors must presume any person* seeking an abortion is a minor until that person affirmatively provides “an apparently valid governmental record of identification.” It is vague as to what ID is “apparently valid,” so I wonder how this might affect undocumented people over the age of minority. I suspect it is intended to be a gotcha for doctors who treat undocumented people—including victims of human trafficking whose passports and other IDs are often locked away by their captors. These are the same human trafficking victims Republicans are otherwise so keep to protect.
  5. It drastically limits the venue in which a bypass request can be filed to only the minor’s home county, a neighboring county (presumably a contiguous county) if and only if the home county has a population fewer than 10,000, or in the county where the abortion will be performed. Only 7 of the 254 counties in the state have abortion providers currently; that number could drop at any moment depending upon current litigation. Look at a map of Texas with the abortion clinics marked, and you will see the consequences of this limitation.
  6. It contains the same provision that the guardian at litem and attorney cannot be the same person and must both be appointed. Under current law, the attorney can serve as both, which streamlines a proceeding in which time is of the essence. When King’s bill came up, the point was made that dividing these duties would increase costs for the state.
  7. But wait! Don’t worry about that financial impact. HB3994 changes the law, from saying a court may require the state to pay, to saying it may not require the state to pay. So now, the state won’t have to pay for the appointments, either of them, or for any fees or costs associated with the filing. Congratulations, minor! Your abortion just got much more expensive. And suck it, organizations like Jane’s Due Process providing attorneys pro bono, you’ll now be put in the position of either telling teens they have to come up with court costs, or raising more money to cover them for teens.
  8. It makes explicit that the minor must appear in person, not by video or any other teleconference technology. Minors of the panhandle, get ready to leave home for a week, at the least, to get through this. I mean, what minor could possibly have a problem leaving home for a week?
  9. Insidiously, the bill strikes language that a doctor must report abuse by “a person responsible for the minor’s care, custody, or welfare” so that a doctor must report any abuse to the Department of Family and Protective Services. We want doctors to report abuse, obviously, but from a minor’s perspective, this means an uncle who has threatened to beat the minor if the minor reveals their relationship gets reported. I think that’s a good thing to report, but doctors are already required to report such abuse. Putting this provision in this law is redundant, and simply another attempt to intimidate minors into attempting to procure a bypass.
  10. It requires that records be kept that track case outcomes. This means that the same dangerous radicals who now show up at doctor’s homes and churches and who shout at people entering clinics will know exactly which judges to harass in the same way.

So, that’s a long list. A list that, taken together or in pieces, delays access to a constitutionally protected legal medical procedure.

If you can go to Austin Wednesday, April 22nd:
The committee will meet at 10:30 am in JHR, room 140 (find this building, which is to the northwest of the capitol, on this map. It is a stand-alone building that you cannot access from inside the capitol building).

Often, 10:30 am start times are delayed until business on the House floor adjourns in the afternoon. And, we know State Affairs has no problem letting its meetings run late. Last week, however, the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee heard their abortion bill first rather than push it to the end, so be prepared for anything. Check the live stream if you want to see what’s happening. They could push back the time if many of us show up; they could go early if we show up late.

We’re inside the 72-hours, but perhaps if you call right away, you could still get help if you need accommodations. From the committee notice:

“NOTICE OF ASSISTANCE AT PUBLIC MEETINGS Persons with disabilities who plan to attend this meeting and who may need assistance, such as a sign language interpreter, are requested to contact Stacey Nicchio at (512) 463-0850, 72 hours prior to the meeting so that appropriate arrangements can be made.”

You can stay, of course, and you can even register to give testimony on the bill. Testimony will likely be limited to two minutes, so prepare in advance.

You can also just do a quick stop at the capitol to sign in opposing the bill. Putting your opposition on the record is important. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas has instructions on their website for doing so. Load up your car, round up friends and get on the bus, do whatever you can to help people participate and register their dissent.

If you cannot go to Austin Wednesday:
Currently, the only way to register is to be AT the capitol complex, which just isn’t practical for most Texans. There are still ways, however, to participate in this hearing and help amplify our opposition to this bill.

One, you can watch the live stream of the hearing so you can tweet along or take notes. You’ll see a link to live committee broadcasts in the upper right corner of this page on the Texas Legislature Online site. You’ll want to select the State Affairs Committee. Remember, if you can see people moving but you can’t hear anything, it could mean that the sound isn’t broadcasting because no one is speaking. Check to be sure your computer isn’t muted, but if it is not, it is likely just that there’s no sound to broadcast.

Two, follow along on social media. #TrustTX will be the hashtag to follow. If you can watch and life-tweet, you can help those who can’t be online to watch the live stream, and you can help create a permanent record of organized opposition to the bill.

Three, you can call members of the committee to tell them you are opposed to the bill, and your own representatives (if they are not on the committee), to ask them to work to make it possible for Texans to sign in as opposed or in support of a bill remotely, so that access to democracy isn’t limited to people who can drop everything and go to the capitol in Austin.

Members are (click link to get to their office pages):

Be polite, and be brief. Your message is that you ask the member to oppose HB 3994 because parts of it are redundant, parts are unconstitutional, and overall, it creates an insurmountable hurdle for the very population – the most vulnerable teens in Texas – that the bypass procedure is intended to help.

#TrustTX

*Abortion-related laws in Texas always uses woman instead of person. I think we all know they mean ciswomen. I will use person whenever possible, unless I am quoting something directly.

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5 Responses to The Outlook Worsens for Teens and Judicial Bypass

    • Not yet, but I’m sure it will make its way here. What is particularly insulting about this (though let’s be clear, pretty much the whole thing is particularly insulting) is that doctors need to know how to perform a D&C, one of the most common techniques used to perform abortions, in order to treat people who miscarry. It is the same procedure. A person who miscarries but does not have a D&C risks septic infection, which could lead to infertility or death – it doesn’t always happen, but it is a known medical risk. So, this bill, by not teaching doctors a skill that is in demand for several different reasons, puts the life and health and fertility of people who want and are ready to have children, as well as those who might want but aren’t ready, or don’t want so will never be ready.

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