by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
August 15, 2004
Austin, TX (LifeNews.com) — Lawmakers are examining the effectiveness of Texas’ parental notification law, and pro-life leaders are asking for a stronger law, citing inconsistencies in statistics that show possible abuse of the judicial bypass.
The House State Affairs Committee met Monday to "Gather and study statistical information concerning judicial proceedings to bypass parental notification of a minor’s abortion."
The parental notification law in Texas has had a significant impact on the number of abortion performed on minors, already causing lower teen abortion rates.
A 26.2 percent drop in abortions performed on girls under the age of 17 occurred between 2002 and 1999 (a year before the law went into effect). In that same period, according to the Texas Department of Health, pregnancies dropped 10.7 percent and births by 7.3 percent, even as the teenager population increased.
"The law is working as intended in several respects: (1) by encouraging communication between teens and their parents, (2) by keeping teens out of abortion clinics, and (3) by ensuring parental involvement in the health care of their minor daughters," explained Elizabeth Graham, executive director of Texas Right to Life.
"The substance of the law does not need to change since the law is impacting positively the teens and their families," Graham said.
But the application of the law is what legislators want to examine and strengthening it could lead to even fewer abortions on Texas teens.
Under the Texas law, a minor cannot obtain an abortion without a parent being notified, or a judicial waiver allowing abortionists to proceed without notifying a parent or guardian.
Inconsistencies in the statistics are raising alarm among pro-life leaders, who are calling for changes in how the process of granting judicial waivers.
"We believe that abortion providers are flagrantly abusing the judicial bypass exception to help minors routinely obtain abortions without parental involvement," said Joe Pojman, Ph.D. executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.
"Planned Parenthood is openly judge shopping by taking young pregnant women hundreds of miles away from home to avoid judges who strictly abide by the law," Pojman added, citing Peter Durkin, director of Planned Parenthood of Houston, who wrote "Court shopping makes sense" in the Houston Chronicle in March 2004.
The statistics appear to show such "court shopping" maneuvers.
Between January 1, 2000, and March 8, 2002, only 19 judicial waiver cases had been filed in Harris County, where more abortions are performed than anywhere else in the state. By comparison, 110 such cases were filed in Travis County and 191 were filed in Bexar County.
"The apparent abuse of the bypass system needs to be seriously addressed in the next legislature," added Pojman. "Our main goal is to get parents involved in the life-altering decisions of their children."
The reporting method is not entirely accurate as well, as only cases in which the state foots the bill for the hearing are reported by the health department. If lawyers work for free, then no record is kept.
Even when records are kept about the hearings, the entire proceedings and the names of all involved, including judges, are sealed.
"Every other type of court activity—medical malpractice, divorce, all matters civil, criminal, and familial—is recorded and reported," Graham told LifeNews.com.
"This judicial bypass provision is the only court proceeding kept secret, arguably to protect activist judges who thwart the will of the legislature," Graham explained.
"While the minor should always remain anonymous, the reporting and recording of number of bypass petitions, outcome of petitions (i.e., granted or denied), the court in which the petition was filed, and the judge who heard the case is vital information in assessing the full impact of the law on the courts," Graham added. "This information would also provide insight as to how the courts can better serve the needs of these troubled minors."
Planned Parenthood officials, representing the largest abortion provider in Texas and the nation, opposed the parental notification process entirely.
‘We believe denying minors confidential health care services is dangerous and could potentially have fatal health causes," said Heather Paffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.