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Judges In Texas Are Inconsistent About Allowing Minors To Get Abortions Without Parental Consent

An examination table at a clinic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Texas law requires minors to notify or get consent from a parent or guardian before getting an abortion. If they don't want to, young women can ask a judge for permission.

The percentage of minors unable to get a judge's approval for an abortion in Texas has fluctuated in the past two decades, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

Texas is one of 37 states that have laws requiring minors to notify or obtain consent from a parent or guardian before they get an abortion. Supporters of these laws argue they ensure parents stay involved in their children's medical care.

If a young woman would prefer not to, she can ask a judge for permission, a process called a judicial bypass. In most judicial bypass cases, the young women fear for their safety or don't have a parent or guardian.

Amanda Jean Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado – Boulder, said this is the first study to even acknowledge judicial bypass denials happen. She said this is an important issue that should be looked at.

“We know from really high-quality evidence that when people are denied wanted abortions there are long-term negative, socioeconomic, health and other consequences for them and their lives,” she said.

Researchers found that the rate of judges denying young women judicial bypasses in the state changed a lot between 2001 and 2018. According to the study, the biggest spike in denials happened after the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3994 in 2016. The law gave judges more time to rule on these requests, and if a deadline was not met it was automatically rejected.  

Opponents said this made it harder to get a judicial bypass.

“In 2016, the first year under HB3994, the percentage denied rose more than threefold,” researchers wrote.

But in the two years that followed, the study found, the percentage of denials fell from about 13% overall to about 5%.

Stevenson said such a big change occurring within just a few years is concerning.

“That pattern indicates that the increase in denials after the law changes may not be due to the changing law," she said. It could have something to do with politics or "some other process that’s leading judges to be more likely to deny the cases.”

Researchers said these figures raise concerns, because “the judicial bypass process is intended to insulate young people from anyone’s veto of their abortion decision.”

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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