I grew up in a small Texas town of about 7,000 people, 30 miles from the closest city. There was no public transportation and, really, no way for a teenager without a car to get around except to rely on parents and friends. The courthouse was in the next town over. Some of my high school classmates lived an hour or more away—on ranches and farms and in houses and trailers down country roads with miles between neighbors or in little communities of less than 200 people that couldn’t even support a gas station. Getting into town from these places could be an ordeal, getting into the city to see an abortion provider, near impossible.
So trust me when I tell you that Texas HB 3994 puts in place insurmountable barriers for many Texas adolescents seeking an abortion. Last Friday, this dangerous and extreme bill passed its last hurdle before heading to the governor’s desk . Once it becomes law, it will threaten the safety and health of Texas adolescents.
Making it Harder to be Heard in Court
It’s bad enough that Texas already requires anyone under the age of 18 to get a judge’s approval to have an abortion if they are unable to get their parents’ permission. But HB 3994 goes even further. Let’s start with the requirement that adolescents must go to the judge in their county to seek permission. They can’t even appear by video or phone which had been allowed before HB 3994. According to Heather Busby, of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, “The judicial bypass is in place to protect abused and neglected pregnant teens who cannot safely turn to a parent or cannot find a parent. When a minor is forced to go to her local courthouse in rural communities her confidentiality is near impossible to protect.”
I know firsthand how hard it can be to have any privacy, to do anything in a rural community without it getting back to your parents, family, and friends. The one lawyer who handled family law cases in my hometown knew my parents, taught catechism at my church, and was good friends with one of my aunts. The whole school knew when one of my friends sought emancipation from her abusive parents. One night after she fled her parents, they showed up at the house where she was staying and tried to drag her home. Her location was supposed to be a secret but how do you keep a secret like that when her brothers could see whose car she got into at the end of the day? How do you keep a secret when the lawyer’s office is just down the street from the high school and we could all see who walked in? When the court secretary is your cousin? When the police officer walking in the hallway at the courthouse is your sister’s boyfriend? When you need a friend to drive you to the courthouse? A plausible cover story to tell your parents? An explanation to give your abusive boyfriend who tracks your every move?
HB 3994 will effectively cut off access for many adolescents who will be unable to get to court or who need to keep the fact that they are trying to have an abortion a secret, which includes just about anyone who is seeking judicial approval in the first place.
Making It Harder to Obtain Court Approval for an Abortion
And that’s not all. HB 3994 requires adolescents to meet a higher standard of proof before being able to get a judge’s permission and it permits the court to require the adolescent to be evaluated by a mental health professional. It also allows the judge to wait five days, instead of the current two, before issuing a decision and if the judge misses the deadline, the request will be denied. Under current law, if the judge does nothing, the request is granted.
In an ideal world, no young person would have to make the decision to have an abortion without the support of her parents. But HB 3994 does nothing to help facilitate communication or increase parental support. Instead, it throws up obstacles aimed at stopping teens who don’t have parents they can turn to from getting an abortion. Before passing HB 3994,Texas politicians should have listened to the stories of teens seeking judicial approval. These young women made the decision that was best for them under some of the worst circumstances imaginable. It is clear when you listen to their stories how thoughtful and considered their decision was. Too bad Texas politicians aren’t as thoughtful as the teens they say they can’t trust.