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Texas House OKs Bill Restricting Minors Seeking Abortions

Bob Daemmrich
Texas Tribune
State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, talks with a colleague prior to the introduction of House Bill 3994 in the Texas House.

Minors seeking to obtain abortions without parental consent would face more restrictions under a bill that received preliminary approval Wednesday from the Texas House.

After about four hours of debate and a barrage of failed amendments by Democrats, the House passed House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria on a 98-47 vote. The measure would enact several restrictions on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows some minors to obtain abortions without their parents’ permission. The measure now awaits final approval by the House before it can go to the Senate.

Texas law requires minors to obtain consent for an abortion from at least one parent. But if obtaining an abortion could endanger the minor, she can look to the courts for judicial bypass to obtain the abortion without parental consent.

“The intent of this bill is to improve the protection of the minor girl and ensure that parental rights are protected,” Morrison said.

But the measure was met with fierce opposition from Democrats who called several points of order — a method used to delay or kills bills on a technicality — and offered several amendments to weaken the bill. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

Among the restrictions in HB 3994 is a requirement that doctors presume a pregnant woman is a minor unless she presents a “valid government record of identification” — a measure opponents of the bill have dubbed as “abortion ID.”

Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to tack on several amendments to the bill to strike the ID provision altogether and broaden the types of IDs that would be acceptable under the law.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin who offered an ID-related amendment questioned whether HB 3994 is intended to create “a defacto ban on abortion for people who don’t have IDs.” Meanwhile, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, grilled Morrison on why a student ID from a high school or college would not be acceptable or whether she expected victims of human trafficking to be able to comply with the provision.

“What kind of ID do you think a human trafficking would have?” Anchia asked Morrison.

“If they’re actually a victim of human trafficking they should be going to a police department,” Morrison responded.

It was one of few questions Morrison answered during the hours-long debate, declining multiple requests from Democrats to answer questions about the bill.

The legislation would also increase the burden of proof for minors who say that asking for parental consent could lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

In defending an amendment to keep the current burden of proof, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said he was concerned that changing the “long-standing” standard for burden of proof in judicial bypass cases could lead to changes in other areas of law.

“What we’re doing is that were sending out a message to our judiciary that we don’t trust them,” Gutierrez said.

Republican state Rep. Phil King of Weatherford, who said he was part of the lawmakers who helped draft Texas’ judicial bypass law in 1999, made the case for increasing the burden of proof, saying Republicans at the time wanted the proposed burden of proof but didn’t have the votes to get it approved.

During the debate on the burden of proof amendment, Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis of West University Place defended the current judicial bypass law, explaining that it was authored by “strong, pro-life Republicans.”

“The legislation that is attempting to be overhauled today was created and championed and governed all by Republicans,” Davis said. “So are you as confused as I am?”

Additionally, the measure would restrict where minors can seek judicial bypass. Minors can currently file applications for judicial bypass in any county in the state. But HB 3994 would require minors to file applications in their home county, unless that county has a population under 10,000, or the county where she will obtain the procedure.

An amendment by state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, to revise that population limit to 50,000 failed.

Another provision of Morrison’s bill would make public the names of judges who rule on judicial bypass cases. González also offered an amendment to strike this provision from the bill, arguing that it would “put a target on the backs of judges who rule on these cases.”

For years, opponents of judicial bypass have attempted to close what they call a loophole in a 15-year-old state law that requires parental consent for minors seeking abortions. They argue that if the state is going to take control from parents, it should reform the judicial bypass process to heighten the burden of proof for minors who say they cannot obtain consent.

There were several impassioned moments on the floor as Democrats pushed amendments that would have given other family members the ability to provide consent for minors, defined minors as someone who is younger than 17 to put the judicial bypass law in line with criminal law, and to provide exemptions for victims of incest or rape.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who offered the amendment for incest and rape exemption, asked members to help these victims who “need to be protected.”

“You may have been raped by your father and you’re going to have to find your way through the court system and provide clear and convincing evidence that you’ve been raped by your father?” Howard said.

Some judicial bypass opponents who endorsed Morrison’s bill said it still didn’t go far enough and pointed instead to a separate measure by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, that would also impose extensive restrictions on judicial bypass.

That measure died in committee, but Krause successfully attached language from it onto Morrison’s bill through an amendment.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, had raised a point of order on Krause's amendment, but he pulled it after Republican leaders agreed to not take up more controversial amendments that had been filed but not yet considered.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.