As everyone who knows the issue pretty much expected, Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday signed into law a bill affecting a minor’s ability to have an abortion without a parent’s permission.
Abbott’s aides could easily have arranged a human tableaux to stand behind the governor as he signed House Bill 3994. The witnesses could very well include lawmakers who authored the measure and anti-abortion activists who demanded it.
Everyone will congratulate themselves for striking a blow for parents’ rights and restricting access to the courts for pregnant teens.
But I wish Abbott could meet some of the 1,000 desperate young women with whom I’ve spoken in the past seven years in my work with Jane’s Due Process, a legal hotline serving pregnant teens.
We call them “Janes” because a 16-year-old state law for dealing with their dilemma requires anonymity.
I wish Abbott could see the Janes who were refugees from violence in their homes in Central America, only to be raped — and become pregnant — on their harrowing flight north.
I wish he could see some of the African-American Janes from Texas with whom I’ve spoken. Several spoke of fathers who sold all of the family’s belongings to get money to buy drugs.
I wish Abbott could see some of the Hispanic Janes who’veearned a college scholarship and a way out of poverty.
At a life-changing moment, who will stand with them if their parents have died, been deported, never been in their lives or are abusive?
And I’d like him to see Anglo Janes from rural Texas who said disclosure of their unplanned pregnancies would cause parents to turn them out. They would become homeless.
One Muslim teen told me her father, if he knew, would perform an “honor” killing.
A college student, still 17, became pregnant. Both parents had died in a car accident.
Countless teens have called saying they have been raised by their grandmothers and have no means of obtaining a parent’s consent to have an abortion.
In a perfect world, of course, having a parent involved in every instance would be ideal. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world — and HB 3994 only will add to the misery of girls from less-than-ideal homes.
The bill would place new restrictions on pregnant teens as they try to obtain a judge’s permission to allow them to have an abortion without a parent’s consent.
While bill authors made no persuasive case that the existing “judicial bypass” for pregnant minors is broken, they have plunged ahead to dismantle it.
What has changed in Texas since 1999, when then-Gov. George W. Bush signed the parental-notification law that set up the judicial bypass? Little, when it comes to family dynamics and unplanned teen pregnancies.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the judicial bypass process must be anonymous, expeditious and an effective opportunity for an abortion to be obtained.
HB 3994 changes the process to compromise anonymity, impede the speed of judges’ decisions and create a new procedure that will function as an impermissible arbitrary veto over a minor’s decision to have an abortion.
For example, the bill stretches out the time a judge has to rule on a bypass application — in effect allowing a judge to stall a minor out until she can no longer obtain a legal abortion.
The vast majority of teens involve at least one parent when deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy. Between 200 and 300 teens a year can’t find a parent or cannot safely involve one in their excruciating decision about whether or not to have an abortion.
This mean-spirited law is all about punishing them, the very least among us.
Tina Hester is executive director of Jane’s Due Process, an Austin nonprofit that provides free legal representation for pregnant teens in Texas.