News Abortion

Science In, Science Out: Texas Lawmakers Hear Two Very Different Abortion Bills

Andrea Grimes

One bill would remove language connecting breast cancer to abortion in the state-issued pre-abortion booklet. The other would ban abortions performed after 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Yesterday in Texas, two Republican lawmakers presented two very different abortion-related bills, both of which deal with the reliability of mainstream medical and scientific research. One bill would bring Texas in line with the findings of the National Cancer Institute, removing language connecting breast cancer to abortion in the state-issued “Woman’s Right to Know” pre-abortion booklet. The other, the so-called Preborn Pain Act, would ban abortions performed after 20 weeks post-fertilization in the state, putting Texas in opposition to the Texas Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) asked the Texas House State Affairs Committee to “vote to live in fact and not fiction” when considering her proposal to scratch the breast cancer claims out of the “Woman’s Right to Know” booklet. The language was first included in the booklet ten years ago. It reads, in part:

“If you have carried a pregnancy to term as a young woman, you may be less likely to get breast cancer in the future. However, you do not get the same protective effect if your pregnancy is ended by an abortion. The risk may be higher if your first pregnancy is aborted.”

Davis, a breast cancer survivor, called the language “patently offensive.” When she was diagnosed with cancer, she said, “Not one time did any of my medical advisors ask me, ‘Did you have an abortion, Ms Davis?’ Because that is simply not in the realm of science.”

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Indeed, a review of research conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that the newest studies have “consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.” And according to the American Cancer Society, “the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

But representatives from anti-choice groups such as the Texas Alliance for Life and Life Advocates said they do not trust the findings of these two organizations. One crisis pregnancy center director from Houston testified, “the people who want to remove [breast cancer’s link to abortion] are the very people who profit from abortion,” arguing that a national conspiracy on behalf of greedy abortion providers has skewed the country’s scientific research in their favor.

An obstetrician speaking on behalf of the Texas Alliance for Life also testified that science linking breast cancer to abortion has been “suppressed” since the passage of Roe v. Wade. Dr. Bevery Nuckolls said there exists “very strong evidence” linking breast cancer to abortion, citing a 1997 study led by Dr. Mads Melbye. The conclusion of that study: “Induced abortions have no overall effect on the risk of breast cancer.”

Just hours after Rep. Davis asked the committee members to consider her bill on the strengths of peer-reviewed medical science, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) asked them to do precisely the opposite in considering a ban on abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization. Laubenberg, who is the Texas state chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a back-door lobbying group responsible for the rash of suspiciously similar conservative legislation proposed across the country over the last several years, said her bill deals with “the life issue.”

Laubenberg’s bill does not include any exceptions for rape, incest, or the mental health of the pregnant person—only an exception for life-threatening physical conditions.

“The technology that we have now, that we know more about the development of the feelings of that preborn child, allows us to make, I think, a better decision,” Laubenberg told the committee. Her bill asserts that “substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization.”

Whatever Laubenberg’s “substantial medical evidence” is, it is not accepted by the Texas Hospital Association, which sent a representative to Wednesday’s hearing to oppose the bill, nor by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published a 2005 clinical review finding that “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.” Similarly, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists holds the official position that “scientific evidence does not support the elimination of legal abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation based on concern for fetal pain.”

Rep. Laubenberg claimed that by 20 weeks post-fertilization, a woman has had “more than enough time to decide whether or not she will have, choose to have, that abortion.”

But the reality of second trimester abortions is much more complicated than a woman simply being too lazy or ignorant to bother to abort. Of the fewer than 0.5 percent of abortions that are performed after 20 weeks in Texas, many are due to fetal anomalies that cannot be identified prior to that time. Women of color in traumatic, abusive, or unstable living situations are more likely to seek abortions at 20 weeks, often because they lack access to medical care that would enable them to abort earlier, or because they must save up the hundreds or thousands of dollars for their procedures over the course of many weeks.

Amelia Long, president of the Lilith Fund, an organization that provides financial resources for Texans seeking abortion, told Rewire in December that it’s “never the case” that the Texans who reach out to her fund are “just putting it off and just being lazy.”

Much of the testimony on the 20-week ban centered on fetuses, rather than pregnant Texans’ right to access safe, legal abortion before the third trimester. Abortion is already banned in Texas after 24 weeks.

Dr. Patrick Nunnelly, an anti-choice OB-GYN from Austin, testified that the bill was “a critical step in the protection of a group of vulnerable citizens who have no choice.” 

But one woman’s tearful testimony put the focus back on pregnant Texans. She testified that her doctor discovered a terminal fetal anomaly in the second trimester of her pregnancy. The religious-affiliated hospital at which she was being treated would not allow her to terminate her pregnancy, even when her doctor appealed to the hospital’s board.

She said, through tears, “I should be allowed to make this very personal, very private decision,” and observed that had a 20-week ban been in place when she was faced with her decision, any choice about her medical options would have already been made for her, by the state.

The fundamental question proposed by both bills is this: Do Texas lawmakers trust peer-reviewed research produced by mainstream medical science? If the answer is no, then Laubenberg’s bill should pass. If the answer is yes, then Davis’ bill should pass. If both bills pass, Texas lawmakers are essentially contradicting themselves; either the best available peer-reviewed medical science is trustworthy, or it isn’t.

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.

News Law and Policy

Texas District Attorney Drops Felony Charges Against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver's license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston.

UPDATE, July 26, 2:47 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Texas dismissed the remaining criminal charges against anti-choice activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt related to their production of widely discredited, heavily edited videos alleging Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

The criminal charges against the pair originally stemmed from Republican Texas lawmakers’ responses to the videos’ release. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all called for the Harris County District attorney’s Office to begin a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast last August, after the release of one video that featured clinic staff in Houston talking about the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for life-saving scientific research.

A Texas grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood staff and declined to bring any criminal charges against the health-care provider. More than a dozen state and federal investigations have similarly turned up no evidence of lawbreaking by the reproductive health-care provider.

Instead, in January, the grand jury returned indictments against Daleiden and Merritt on felony charges of tampering with an official government document for purportedly using a fraudulent driver’s license to gain access to a Planned Parenthood center in Houston. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to trying to entice a third party to unlawfully purchase human organs.

A Texas judge in June dismissed the misdemeanor charge against Daleiden on procedural grounds.

“This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought,” said Daleiden’s attorney, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, in a statement following the announcement that the district attorneys office was dismissing the indictment. “Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden.”

“Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. [Daleiden] and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying. When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” Melaney A. Linton, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement emailed to Rewire after publication.

The district attorney’s dismissal of the felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt happened just before a scheduled court hearing requested by their attorneys to argue the felony indictment should be dismissed.

Daleiden still faces three civil lawsuits elsewhere in the country related to the creation and release of the Planned Parenthood videos.