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Senate Panel Clears Restrictions on Minors Seeking Abortions

A far-reaching proposal to restrict the mechanism used by minors seeking abortions without parental consent is headed to the Senate floor.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, are shepherding legislation to tighten the requirements on "judicial bypass," abortions.

Minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent will face a tougher set of legal hurdles under legislation already approved by the House and now headed for the Senate floor.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday approved House Bill 3994 by state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, on a 5-2 vote. Morrison's bill would tighten the requirements on  “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

Texas law requires minors to obtain consent for an abortion from at least one parent, unless obtaining the consent could put the minor in danger of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In those cases, a judge can be asked to approve the procedure.

Morrison's bill would add new restrictions, including:

  • Requiring doctors to presume all pregnant women seeking abortions are minors unless they present a “valid government record of identification.”

  • Requiring minors to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that seeking consent from a parent obtaining could lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They currently must prove the risk by a "perponderance of evidence," a lower burden of proof.

  • Requiring minors to file applications for bypasses with judges in their home county — unless that county has a population under 10,000 — or the county where she will obtain the procedure. Minors can currently file applications for judicial bypass in any county.

  • Extending the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two days to five days.

  • Reversing current law such that if the judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Conservatives have said HB 3994 would help close “loopholes” in the state’s 15-year-old parental consent law. 

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows states to set their own parental consent laws as long as they provide minors a judicial bypass option, which must be expeditious, confidential and offer an “effective opportunity” for an abortion to be obtained.

Democrats have fiercely opposed the measure, and some have cautioned that it could leave the state open to a lawsuit because they say it violates the Supreme Court ruling.

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Health care Politics State government Abortion Texas Legislature