Thursday, May 05, 2005

Dissent Over Parental Consent?

Some of this session's most controversial abortion bills that moved through the House State Affairs Committee last month are currently sitting in calendars waiting to be heard on the floor. The last day a bill can be set is next Thursday, and all eyes are on Rep. King's HB 1212 which would make parental consent mandatory for minors seeking abortions. Despite Gov Perry's public support of the bill, there seems to be debate on whether it will pass.

Last session, King's parental consent bill (HB 945) died in calendars. Now time is again running out for HB 1212 with less than 26 days to debate all bills before session ends. Calendar's Chairwoman Rep. Woolley must resolve to either set the bill, undoubtedly inciting a big floor debate that would dominate the floor agenda, or opt to let it die in committee.

Little-known Background on HB 1212-
HB 1212 mandates parental consent for an abortion. Texas currently requires only parental notification. Strangely, one of the most prominent anti-abortion groups- the Texas Right To Life - actually disagreed with this bill. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court has held that any statute mandating parental consent must also provide an alternative judicial procedure that will allow minors to bypass parental consent in certain circumstances. This judicial alternative is commonly known as judicial bypass and is generally opposed by pro-life groups who see it as a usurpation of parental rights and a tool to expand abortion.

However, with regard to parental notification, it is unclear whether judicial bypass is constitutionally mandatory. In other words, with notification the door is left open as to whether states can remove bypass requirements all together. And for some pro-life groups such as the Texas Right To Life, the opportunity of removing the bypass option all together is appealing.

Stacey Emick, legislative director for Texas Right To Life, denies any plan to attempt to remove bypasses in Texas. But other sources say they objected to parental consent legislation, and fought instead for an alternative bill. They supported HB 3305 by Rep. Isett that would keep the word "notification," but significantly tighten the existing parental notification law. By keeping notification, they could circumvent constitutional law requiring bypasses, which could mean removing them all together in the future. That bill died in committee.

So, HB 1212 reigns, and its fate will be determined by a political game of tug of war between the governor, who really wants parental consent to promote his reelection, and some of the Republican members of Calendars who pro-choice groups maintain are secretly pro-choice.