Op Ed from our Executive Director, Tina Hester

Sometime before the veto period ends on Father’s Day, Gov. Greg Abbott is almost certain to sign into law a bill affecting a minor’s ability to have an abortion without a parent’s permission.

Abbott’s aides may carefully arrange a human tableaux to stand behind the governor as he signs House Bill 3994. The witnesses may very well include lawmakers who authored the measure and anti-abortion rights activists who demanded it.

Everyone will congratulate themselves for striking a blow for parents’ rights and restricting access to the courts for pregnant teens. I’m sure there will be additional celebration in light of the Fifth Circuit ruling in favor of House Bill 2 on Tuesday, which may close all but eight of Texas’ abortion providers.

But I wish Governor Abbott, before he signs this misguided measure, 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 established to serve pregnant teens.

We call them “Janes” because of the anonymity a 16-year-old state law for dealing with their dilemma requires.

I wish Governor 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 to El Norte.

I wish he could see some of the African American Janes with whom I’ve spoken. Several spoke of already being overburdened by caring for a parent chronically ill with heart disease and diabetes. These brave young women chose not to become parents so they could care for their own parent’s failing health.

I wish Governor Abbott could see some of the Hispanic Janes, who’ve already earned 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 new law will likely be challenged in the courts.

The vast majority of teens involve at least one parent when deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy. There are only between 200 and 300 teens a year who 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.