Bad Bill: Reducing Access to Abortion

by Published on
Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tex.
Patrick Michels

State Rep. Bill Callegari (R-Houston) filed a bill last month that would effectively reduce abortion access for minors—especially minors with abusive parents or without parents entirely.

Under current Texas law, women under age 18 must obtain their parent’s permission to have an abortion. Minors who can’t get parental permission—because of abuse, fear or negligence—can ask a court for a bypass.

That may sound sensible, but it’s not enough for Callegari. His HB 3243 would make this process more difficult. It would require a longer wait time and add a burden of proof—minors would have to provide evidence that telling their parents would result in their physical or emotional harm.

“The intent of HB 3243 is to increase parental rights,” Callegari said in a statement. “The [Texas] Supreme Court’s judicial bypass law was originally implemented to protect the small number of cases of minors who would be subject to abuse when seeking parental consent. This bill will help close the loopholes and reinstate parental involvement in their daughters’ health care.”

That may be, but there are a number of problems with this bill. It would allow judges to force minors requesting a bypass to receive “mental health counseling” from a provider of their choice. Tina Hester, executive director at Jane’s Due Process, a non-profit that provides free legal services to minors seeking abortions, said that judges can—and do—assign religious figures to do this counseling. For example, evangelical ministers have been assigned as guardian ad litem to a minor. Often, Hester said, the religious figures assigned by the court will try to dissuade the teen from getting an abortion.

The bill also changes the burden of proof. Currently, “the minor has to convince the judge to grant a judicial bypass on one of three grounds: that she is mature and well informed and understands her options, that it wouldn’t be in her best interest for her parents to be notified, or third, that telling her parents would result in physical, sexual or emotional abuse,” Hester said.

But the text of the bill clarifies that she must also provide “clear and convincing evidence” that notifying a parent or guardian would be detrimental.  Hester said, “she might say ‘they beat my older sister up and kicked her out when she got pregnant,’ but she can’t prove it” to the judge, so the court could deny her request.

Under the new legislation, girls would also have to provide justification for the abortion, if the judge requests it. According to the bill, “In determining whether the abortion is in the best interest of the minor, the court may inquire as to the minor’s reasons for seeking an abortion.” If the judge decides her reasoning is not adequate, he or she can deny the request.

In response to Callegari’s “parental rights” defense, Hester said, “the minors who are able to talk to their parents—they talk to them. Only a fraction of minors pursue a judicial bypass. … Forcing a minor to tell an abusive parent is not helping parental communication,” she said.

Callegari may be trying to protect parental rights, but in practice, his bill would grant courts tremendous power over vulnerable teens’ most personal decisions.