President-elect George W. Bush’s White House counsel appointee,
|Texas Supreme Court Justice Alberto R. Gonzales|
One of the nine judges on the high court — who are all Republicans — Gonzales opined without explanation in March that a 17-year-old high school girl did not have to notify her parents before she underwent an abortion. The case was the first of many “Jane Does” flooding Texas courts at all levels after the state’s
Parental Notification Act went into effect Jan. 1 and has resulted in uncharacteristic division among the justices.
The law was passed by the Texas legislature last year and requires that at least one parent of girls 17 and under be notified before abortions are performed on the minors. Included in the original version of the bill, however, was a provision for judicial bypass of parental notification, which supporters of the measure say was necessary to pass a constitutionality test.
“If the court finds that the minor is mature and sufficiently well informed, that notification would not be in the minor’s best interest, or that notification may lead to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the minor, the court shall enter an order authorizing the minor to consent to the performance of the abortion without notification to either of her parents or a managing conservator or guardian,” the law states.
In the first Jane Doe case that opened the door to others, a trial court denied the girl’s petition, saying she did not prove a high level of maturity or that abuse would result from telling her parents about her pregnancy. That decision was upheld by an appeals court, but the Texas Supreme Court sent the case back to be reheard. The process was repeated, and on March 10, the state’s highest court granted the girl’s petition. While Gonzales was the tie-breaking vote in the March 10 order, which was initially issued without an explanation, he said he was not the tie-breaking vote on the opinion issued days later.
“Four judges objected to rendering a decision without issuing an opinion,” Gonzales told WorldNetDaily in a telephone interview yesterday. But when the opinion was released, he added, six judges had joined in granting the petition.
Gonzales’ appointment has generated controversy among some abortion opponents due to his decisions in the Jane Doe cases. The new Bush appointee declined to comment on the negative reaction, saying only, “People can read my opinion and either agree or disagree.”
Joe Pojman, executive director of
Greater Austin Right to Life
Committee, is disappointed with Gonzales’ decisions.
“We had hoped he would do more to protect parents’ rights,” he said. “We don’t know how he stands on the fundamental issue of abortion, because he hasn’t had a chance to rule on it.”
According to the strict code of judicial conduct, “A judge or judicial candidate shall not make statements that indicate an opinion on any issue that may be subject to judicial interpretation by the office which is being sought or held, except that discussion of an individual’s judicial philosophy is appropriate if conducted in a manner which does not suggest to a reasonable person a probable decision on any particular case.”
Concerning the Jane Doe cases, Pojman said, “The parents are not in any way represented at these hearings. We thought a little more deference ought to be given to the parents.”
Pojman believes the court should have taken more seriously what he describes as the “fairly rigorous” definitions of abuse used in Texas case law. Potential abuse caused by notifying parents of their daughter’s pregnancy and desire to obtain an abortion, he said, “should be of the seriousness that it ought to be reported to child protective services.” Otherwise, it’s “too easy for the states to step in between parents and their minor daughter.”
If the term “emotional abuse” is “interpreted too broadly, it becomes the exception that swallows the whole rule,” Pojman added. “There’s got to be a pretty good reason parents should not know about an invasive procedure on their 13- or 14-year-old daughter.”
Despite his disappointment over Gonzales’ decisions, the anti-abortion activist said, “I am sure he’ll do a good job for President-elect Bush.”
Pojman, whose group was actively involved in promoting the Parental Notification Act, said he expects a state report to be released soon revealing pregnancy and abortion rates in Texas. He noted the law was modeled after a similar measure in Minnesota, which resulted in a dramatic decrease in such rates.
“We don’t expect all the results to come at once,” he conceded, adding it could take about five years to see drops in teen pregnancies and abortions. Ultimately, Pojman remarked, the new law will have a positive effect.
“Bring parents back into the picture, take the state out of the division between parents and their daughters, and there’s generally going to be a very positive public-policy effect,” he said.
Gonzales, who continually approved petitions for judicial bypass of parental notification, will now serve as a senior White House adviser in the Bush administration. He was appointed by Gov. Bush to the Supreme Court bench on Jan. 11, 1999, to fill the un-expired term of Justice Raul Gonzalez. Prior to that appointment, Gonzales had served as Texas’ 100th secretary of state from Dec. 2, 1997, to Jan. 10, 1999. A long-time associate of Bush’s, he also served as general counsel to the Texas governor for three years.
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