On January 1, 2016, HB 3994 becomes law in Texas, and minors seeking judicial bypass of the parental consent requirement for obtaining an abortion will have far fewer options when it comes to securing one.
While in theory, the law should be applied equally throughout the state, no one feels very good about what things will be like for teens come January 1st.
Jane’s Due Process provides confidential information about Texas teens’ legal rights as they relate to pregnancy. When teens make the choice to seek a bypass to the state’s parental consent law—meaning they ask a judge to give them permission to bypass the state’s requirement that they have consent of a parent or legal guardian in order to get an abortion—JDP connects them to attorneys and helps them navigate the process.
JDP conducted a survey of Texas courthouses to determine just how bad things could get if HB 3994 became law.
Y’all, it ain’t pretty:
A mere 26% of counties provided the caller with factually correct information. Even more frightening, 37% of counties denied entirely their office’s involvement with judicial bypass filings, and a vast 81% of counties had no immediate knowledge of the existence of judicial bypass.
A stunning 43% of counties provided the caller with blatant misinformation. Several district clerks went a step further and provided the caller with personal, religious advice, referencing “God’s plan” for the minor. One clerk announced she was an “advocate for Crisis Pregnancy Centers” and wanted to meet with the minor in person after work. Other clerks simply told the caller to “pick up the phone and call a lawyer” with one abruptly hanging up the phone.
You can read HB 3994 start to finish, but you won’t find any funds or requirements that these county officials get any training or guidance.
Imagine being a pregnant teen who wants to get an abortion. You call the courthouse, and the adult charged to help you starts talking about God and refuses to give you the information you need.
You’d like to think it couldn’t happen. You’d like to think that courts will take their obligations under the law seriously. I have two words for you that ought to send chills down your spine when it comes to wondering just how ready court employees will be to help:
Government employees not doing their job seem to be having a moment.
We can’t let court employees who are, at best, confused and ignorant, or at worst, eager to meet Mike Huckabee, stand in the way of Texas teens seeking access to a legal medical procedure.
Jane’s Due Process has put out the call for volunteer attorneys around the state who are willing to be trained to help minors through this legal process.
Are you an attorney in Texas? Do you know someone who is?
A few things to know about what kind of attorneys are needed and what the commitment is like:
- Family law is the best background, but lawyers with other practice areas aren’t precluded from being very effective in these hearings. It just takes training and the ability to work compassionately and quickly with teens in difficult circumstances.
- Lawyers should be familiar with local judges and local rules.
- Time is of the essence in these cases, so a volunteer must have the flexibility to drop everything and prioritize the case. Judges have between 2 and 5 days to hear the cases, so realistically, there’s about a week-long window.
Lawyers who may not be able to take cases, but who can offer local insight in various counties, can help as well.
Texas has 254 counties, and, thanks to the way Rep. Geanie Morrison’s bill limited the number of venues in which teens will be able to seek a bypass, JDP will need lawyers in pretty much every last one.
Why? Under current law, teens could go to judges in any county in Texas, so they often come to courts in major counties where they are not only more likely to get a judge who has experience with these cases, but less likely to run into friends or family members who might violate their confidentiality.
They were also, in those major counties, close to the very few clinics that could provide abortion once the judge made a decision.
Starting on January 1st of next year, a teen can only file in her home county, unless that county has a population of fewer than 10,000 people. If it does, she can go to a neighboring county.
What does that map look like?
Jane’s Due Process needs lawyers in all of those purple counties AND almost all of the white ones, but especially those bordering purple ones, who can take cases.
If you can help, or you know someone who can, they should contact Jane’s Due Process to volunteer.