It’s been six months since a law went into effect that changes the rules for judicial bypasses – that's when a judge allows a minor to have an abortion without getting consent or notifying an adult. These bypasses are mostly sought by young women who fear abuse or can’t locate a parent or guardian. Advocates say this legal tool is vital to the young women who use it. But, since a law passed last year, it’s been harder than ever to get them.
Susan Hays is the legal director of Jane’s Due Process, an organization that gets its name from the pseudonym commonly used to refer to the girls seeking judicial bypasses. Since 2000, Hays has helped countless "Janes," but, after House Bill 3994 was passed last year, things are pretty different.
“But, in a lot of sort of small ways,” Hays said. “And we are finding out there six months later is that it wasn’t the legal changes that were mattering to the Janes. It’s that things were stirred up politically.”
Hays said the anti-abortion movement has a lot of power right now, and that is affecting how judges rule. In fact, some judges are campaigning on this issue. Here’s an ad from Judge Mike Sinha last year:
Hays pointed out that HB 3994 gave judges like this more power, including giving them more time to rule on judicial bypass cases. It used to be that if the judge didn’t meet the deadline, the case was deemed granted. Now, if it doesn’t meet the deadline, it’s deemed a “nay.”
“And so if a judge does nothing, if a judge just doesn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole because you know, abortion, the Jane automatically loses, and we don’t even have a hearing transcript to take up on appeal," she said.
Hays said after years of almost never losing a case, she’s starting to lose a lot.
“On cases without regards to the merit,” she added. “We are not losing weak cases. We’ve lost some cases that are some of the strongest cases I have ever seen.”
John Seago with Texas Right to Life helped craft this law. He said when he started looking into the judicial bypass system, there wasn’t a lot of data.
“What we had, though, were these stories, from judges, from guardian ad litems. We would hear anonymous stories from these different kind of angles of the abuse of this system. And, unfortunately, the way that we kind of saw it happening was that it was not protecting minors, it was actually being used as a loophole for the abortion industry. So, that was very concerning.”
Advocates at Jane’s Due Process said this isn't a loophole, but a way to help women who’ve been left behind by other public policies. They say nine out of 10 times a child involves a parent when they get an abortion, and those who don’t usually have a pretty good reason.