Abbey Marr is a Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at Advocates for Youth
You may remember that last fall Alabama enacted a new parental involvement law that puts some young people on trial simply for seeking abortion care. Texas has decided — on top of the many harmful restrictions it has put in place for all people who seek abortion care in its state — that it would like to join Alabama in making it a degrading, next to impossible task for young people under 18 to obtain abortion care if they cannot get a parent’s consent.
State parental involvement laws are nothing new, but they are getting worse. Even at their least harmful, the laws – which generally require that when people under eighteen seek abortion care, they notify or get consent from one or both parents first, or get a special waiver, called a “bypass” from a judge – delay access to abortion, endanger health and safety, and fundamentally disrespect young people’s ability to make their own decisions. This harm disproportionately falls on young people in foster care, young people who face abuse or assault from their parents, and other young people that already face significant barriers to obtaining care. And some states are making it worse: this week Texas is poised to pass HB 3994, which would make it virtually impossible for some young people to obtain abortions. Like many states, for the past 15 years Texas has forced people under 18 seeking abortion care to get the signed consent of a parent or legal guardian, or seek a judicial bypass.
HB 3994, which has passed the Senate and the House and will likely be signed by the Governor, would make this judicial bypass process much, much harder. First, it would require doctors to presume that anyone seeking an abortion is under 18 and thus subject to judicial bypass requirements, unless she can present proof of identification, or the doctor determines after “due diligence” that she is over 18. For people under 18, the judicial bypass procedure has requirements so stringent that almost no one will be able to meet them, including requiring most people seeking a bypass to do so only in their counties of residence or the counties where they intend to obtain care, requiring them to meet an extremely high burden of proof that they are “mature” enough to obtain bypasses, that abortion is in their best interest, and that they are in some form of danger if they were to tell parents or guardian they were seeking abortion care, and allowing judges to force applicants to undergo a mental health evaluation. The law would also add significant delays into the process of obtaining a bypass: applications are no longer required to be considered within two business days. Instead, courts may take five business days. If the courts do not rule in five days, the law would no longer presume her application is granted. Instead, the law is silent, possibly putting an applicant in an indefinite purgatory. And finally, the law compromises anonymity: if a person seeking a bypass says she is being abused, the court must report it to the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Even without these additional hurdles, young people are more likely to face barriers to accessing safe abortion care and may be forced to delay an abortion because they need time to assemble the funds, or lack transportation or access to a provider. These new requirements add logistical nightmares that push some young people through the cracks. They are demeaning, onerous, and stand in the way of young people’s access to safe abortion care.
It is best for young people who find themselves pregnant to be able to seek the advice of a trained medical professional rather than face the situation alone and afraid. Further, young people should have the same right to access the full range of reproductive and sexual health services that other people have. That right includes the ability to access reproductive and sexual health services confidentially and with dignity. With the expected passage of HB 3994 this week, the Texas legislature has decided to put politics ahead of the rights of the young people across its state.
This blog is a cross-post from Advocates for Youth’s youth activist site amplifyyourvoice.org