"Compromise" Paves Way For Vote on Extremist Nominee Owen
Extremist Nominee Should Be Voted Down, Bush Administration Should Stop Playing Texas Hold 'Em With Women's Health, Safety and Rights
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) strongly urges the Senate to defeat the confirmation of extremist judge Priscilla Owen, a Texas judge who has consistently ruled to deny access to abortion. Today's anticipated vote comes on the heels of a deal reached last night to avert a showdown on changing the Senate rules to bar use of the filibuster on judicial nominees.
"We are relieved that checks and balances will remain in place, but still vigorously oppose the Owen nomination," PPFA Interim President Karen Pearl said. "This extremist nominee shows that the Bush administration is willing to play Texas Hold 'Em with women's health, their safety and their rights."
While sitting on the Texas Supreme Court, Justice Owen has written a number of opinions concerning the application of the Texas law mandating parental notice before a minor may obtain an abortion. The Texas law provides a "judicial bypass," a proceeding that allows a mature minor, or a minor for whom parental involvement would not be in her best interests, to obtain a waiver of the parental involvement requirement.1 Justice Owen's opinions have sought to impose a standard of proof on a minor seeking a judicial bypass that, in the words of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (at the time also a justice on the Texas Supreme Court), would have "create[d] hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute" and would be "an unconscionable act of judicial activism."2
"Justice Owen has a shameful record of placing harsh burdens on teens seeking judicial bypass of laws that mandate parental involvement in a teen's abortion decision, and even denying judicial bypass to teens who feared that physical abuse would result if their parents became aware of their pregnancy." Pearl said. "Americans want fair-minded, compassionate and mainstream judges who will uphold the law, not bend it to suit their biases."
The deal, which would allow a vote on Justice Owen's nomination, comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's announcement that it would review Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, a case that centers on the importance of the health exception in cases involving parental involvement. This dramatic declaration focuses a national spotlight on the fundamental importance of justices who have lifetime appointments on federal courts, and their ability to protect or disregard the rights of women. Planned Parenthood is committed to the health and safety of all women seeking abortion. We encourage parent-teen communication and enable families to talk about sensitive issues, like abortion.
1 During Justice Owen's tenure on the Texas Supreme Court, that court has published seven opinions in cases where a minor has appealed the denial of her judicial bypass petition. In all six of the published cases heard by the court prior to her nomination to the Fifth Circuit, Justice Owen voted to uphold the denial of the bypass, thus requiring the minor to involve a parent. In five of those six cases, Justice Owen wrote separately to express her views. It is only since her nomination to the Fifth Circuit that Justice Owen voted to overturn a denial of a minor's bypass petition. In that case, she did not herself write an opinion; rather, she joined the majority opinion overturning the denial. See In re Jane Doe 10, No. 02-0376, 2002 WL 825560 (Tex. Apr. 29, 2002).
2 In re Jane Doe, 19 S.W.3d 346, 365-66 (Tex. 2000) (Gonzales, J., concurring) ("The dissenting opinions suggest that the exceptions to the general rule of notification should be very rare and require a high standard of proof . . . [T]o construe the Parental Notification Act so narrowly as to eliminate bypasses, or to create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute, would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism.").