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Texas committee endorses rule allowing judges to authorize abortions for minors

Texas is one of 35 states that require one or both of a minor’s parents to be involved in her abortion but have a judicial bypass procedure allowing them, absent any consent from a parent, to get approval from a court.

(CN) — With a Texas law barring nearly all abortions set to take effect next week, an advisory committee for the state’s Supreme Court on Friday recommended keeping a rule in place that allows minors to get a judge’s approval for the procedure without parental consent.

Starting Aug. 25, abortion will be illegal in Texas, even in cases of rape or incest, with a narrow exception that they can still be done if the woman has a life-threatening medical condition tied to her pregnancy that puts her at risk of dying, or “poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function” unless the abortion is carried out.

Texas’ so-called trigger law, House Bill 1280, was passed by Republican state lawmakers along party lines last year, and signed into law by GOP Governor Greg Abbott, a devout Catholic.

Like similar legislation passed in 12 other red states, the enactment of Texas’ trigger law was put in motion by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 order overturning Roe v. Wade, the high court’s 1973 decision that established a federal right to abortion.

The impending abortion ban raised concerns for the Texas Supreme Court, whose nine justices are all Republicans, about rules allowing Texans under 18 to get approval from a judge for the procedure without parental consent.

Early this month, Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht referred the matter to an advisory committee for the court, directing the group, most of whom are judges and lawyers, to make a recommendation by the end of its Aug. 19 meeting.

The committee of around 50 people voted unanimously Friday to advise the Texas Supreme Court to keep the judicial bypass rule in place, after its legislative mandates subcommittee discussed the rule in a meeting.

The vagaries of Texas’ new abortion regime, which carries penalties up to life in prison and $100,000 fines – though the woman who receives the abortion cannot be prosecuted, sued or penalized – has led some hospitals to stop doctors from performing abortions on women suffering from serious medical conditions.

Jim Perdue, the subcommittee’s chairman and a partner in the Houston firm Perdue & Kidd, gave some clarity in its meeting Friday about what kind of medical issues would meet the statutory exception for a doctor to legally perform an abortion in Texas.

“A life-threatening condition can be a 10-centimeter tumor in my colon that’s found in a colonoscopy next week,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I go to surgery in the next 12 hours. It’s identified as a life-threatening condition. But it’s not an emergency that would be equivalent of a placental abruption with active hemorrhage where the mother is losing serious amounts of blood.”

As it pertains to the judicial bypass rule, Perdue said, “You don’t need to be bleeding out actively to potentially have a situation where a woman under the age of 18 is pregnant and suffering a life-threatening condition.”

Texas is one of 35 states that require one or both of a minor’s parents to be involved in her abortion but have a judicial bypass procedure allowing them, absent any consent from a parent, to get approval from a court, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Though few Texas minors obtain abortions through the judicial bypass rule, legal experts have noted that for minors in the long-term care of the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, it is now the only option if they need an emergency abortion because the state, which is the de facto parent of such children, cannot consent to abortions.

In Florida this week, an appeals court upheld a trial judge’s order denying permission to obtain an abortion through the state’s bypass rule for a parentless 16-year-old who is about 10 weeks pregnant and lives with a relative, Politico reported.

The judge said he believed the teen lacked the maturity to opt for an abortion.

The Texas Supreme Court must still decide whether to adopt its advisory committee’s recommendation to retain the judicial bypass rule.

It could take up the issue as early as next week, its spokeswoman Amy Starnes said in an email.

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