Restrictions on Minors Seeking Abortions Head to Abbott

Far-reaching restrictions on when and how minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent can seek help from the courts are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

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

Far-reaching restrictions on when and how minors at risk of abuse or harm can seek abortions in Texas without parental consent are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

On a 102-43 vote, the Texas House on Friday signed off on changes made by the Senate to House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, which tightens 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.

Abbott, a Republican who is a staunch opponent of abortion, is expected to sign the measure into law.

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

“The Senate made some good additions to House Bill 3994, including several perfecting changes,” Morrison told the chamber.

HB 3994 would add several new restrictions to the judicial bypass process, including:

  • Requiring minors to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that seeking consent from a parent could lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They currently must prove the risk by a "preponderance of evidence," a lower burden of proof.
  • Requiring physicians to use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age. Doctors could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID, and would have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

  • Requiring minors to file applications for bypasses with judges in their home county. If the minor lives in a county that has a population under 10,000, she can file in an adjacent county 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.

  • Removing from the grounds a minor can cite for needing a judicial bypass the possibility that notifying her parents could lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

  • Reversing a provision of current law that presumes a bypass request is approved if a judge does not rule on the request. A judge’s failure to rule on a bypass request would effectively deny the minor an abortion.

  • Adding a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for anyone who is found to have “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with gross negligence” violated the state’s judicial bypass law.

The Senate gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification" to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — had raised red flags because it would have applied to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

But the Senate was also responsible for adding several provisions, including the civil penalty.

Before Morrison asked the House to approve those changes, Democratic state Reps. Donna Howard of Austin and Ina Minjarez of San Antonio attempted to question Morrison about the bill.

Joined by more than 20 Republicans at the front mic, Morrison deflected their questions, saying she would only address specific questions on Senate amendments.

Seven Democrats joined Republicans in the vote to approve the measure. Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis of West University Place was the only Republican to vote against the bill.

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.