Texas Teens Under Attack

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A slew of new bills in Texas targets some of the state’s most vulnerable teenagers.

05.08.2015

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Over the last 15 years, Houston family lawyer Rita Lucido has seen just about everything when it comes to young women facing difficult situations.

Lucido has represented more than 150 teenagers seeking abortion care since 2000, when Texas passed a law requiring young people to have parental consent or to obtain a court order to bypass consent. Her stories are both heartbreaking and hair-raising.

One girl was pregnant and HIV-positive after being repeatedly raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Her mother blamed her and purposely told others about the circumstances of the pregnancy.

Another teen said that if her mother found out she was pregnant, she would have forced the girl to carry the pregnancy to term and keep the baby as “punishment.”

One young woman came to Texas from Nicaragua with her aunt after her village was destroyed by a hurricane. She did not know where her parents were and was on her own, living like an adult. 

Another girl’s mother clubbed her with a two-by-four on Christmas Day.

As Lucido, who co-founded Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit ensuring legal representation for pregnant teenagers seeking a judicial bypass, notes, “There are generally very compelling reasons why a young woman cannot or does not want to involve a parent in her decision to have an abortion.”

A judge in Texas may allow a teenager to get an abortion without getting her parent’s permission based on one of the following three grounds: that the teen is mature enough to make a decision to have an abortion, that notifying a parent would not be in the minor’s best interests—for example, she could be removed from a positive custody situation, or that notification may lead to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the minor.

Yet a new piece of legislation, Texas House Bill 723, is trying to make the judicial bypass process even more arduous by requiring that teens meet all three of these criteria instead of just one.

Studies show that most teenagers seek out their parents or another trusted adult when they are pregnant. It is the most vulnerable of teens—those dealing with precarious family situations such as an absent or abusive parent—who typically seek judicial bypasses. 

For those young women, proving all three grounds can be nearly impossible. Sometimes a teenager seeking an abortion has not been abused, but her parents have abandoned her, died, or had to relinquish custody. In other cases, she has been abused, but is obviously not mature, which is all the more reason she should not be forced into parenthood.

“It’s appalling and dangerous to target vulnerable young women who are already enduring extreme stress and trauma,” says Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s also blatantly unconstitutional.”

In the 1979 case Bellotti v. Baird, the Supreme Court precedent established that bypassing parental consent requires a minor to show either that she is mature enough to make her abortion decision, or that the desired abortion is in her best interests—but not both.

If HB 723 passes, Texas will have the most extreme parental involvement law in the country. No other state requires teenagers to meet such unreasonable requirements to get access to an abortion.

“HB 723 is yet another example of legislation that, while pretending to protect women, is actually deeply harmful and specifically designed to make it more challenging to obtain an abortion. This bill completely disregards a young woman’s particular circumstances, her autonomy, and her constitutional rights,” says Allen.

Another bill the Texas legislature is considering is an omnibus measure that includes a provision that would make public the names of judges who grant judicial bypasses. Such a measure would put judges under intense scrutiny and could even jeopardize their safety, which could affect their willingness to grant the bypass.

Yet another provision in this bill aimed at making it more difficult for many women—including minors and undocumented immigrants—to receive care would require patients seeking an abortion to have a valid government ID proving their age.

The Center is currently working with Jane’s Due Process, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, URGE—a nonprofit organization focused on young people’s reproductive justice and gender equity—and other women’s advocacy groups to defeat these bills in the Texas Legislature.

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