This is the worst “I told you so.” Those four short words bear the weight of lies and broken promises, of empty words from empty people: Republicans who promised they would not go on the offensive against Texans’ reproductive rights this year.
But I did tell you so. When Texas lawmakers—Republicans and Democrats alike—along with members of the media, hailed the 83rd Texas Legislature as a session of compromise and harmony on the issue of abortion, I said reasonable people were being set up by Republicans hell-bent on opening satellite offices in every Texan uterus at the first opportunity.
That opportunity is here. It’s called a “special session.”
Republican Gov. Rick Perry called the 30-day special session this month to address Texas’ redistricting issues, as he and his fellow Republicans fight to prevent the state’s growing minority populations from receiving the democratic representation they’re due; a federal court struck down state and federal district maps drawn in 2011, declaring them discriminatory.
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But this week, Perry added a sweeping anti-choice bill to the legislature’s agenda: SB 5, filed by state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), combines the worst of anti-choice legislators’ proposed abortion bills from the regular session into a nightmarish document that would decimate Texans’ access to safe, legal abortion care. If passed in its entirety, SB 5 would:
- ban all abortions after 20 weeks, with the exception of those “necessary to avert the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman” or if a fetal anomaly “will result in the death of the infant not later than minutes to hours after birth regardless of the provision of lifesaving medical treatment.”
- require all abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the procedure is performed.
- effectively ban telemedical abortions, requiring doctors to provide the abortion pill (a mifepristol/mifepristone combination) in person and according to outdated 13-year-old Food and Drug Administration regulations that are not only unnecessary, but thought to be potentially harmful in current practice, according to the American College of Gynecologists and the Texas Medical Association.
- require all abortion providers to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, which would reduce the number of sites at which a Texan can obtain an abortion to a total of five, located solely in major metropolitan areas.
The Texas Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, dominated by lawmakers whose heads are buried miles deep in the anti-choice sand, will hear SB 5 Thursday at 3:45 p.m. (Here are some ways to take action against SB 5, in addition to attending tomorrow’s meeting.)
Perhaps what’s most disgusting about the whole thing—and what belies Republicans’ claim of honoring a “culture of life” in Texas—is that there are plenty of ways Gov. Perry and his colleagues could have taken steps to help pregnant women, and children already born, here in Texas. When Perry placed SB 5 on the special session agenda, his office released this statement:
“The horrors of the national late-term abortion industry are continuing to come to light, one atrocity at a time. Sadly, some of those same atrocities happen in our own state. In Texas, we value all life, and we’ve worked to cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child,” Gov. Perry said. “We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause.”
When Perry says he wants to “cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child,” what he means is that he wants to force every pregnant person in Texas to carry their pregnancy to term, as demanded by a state government that thinks it knows Texans better than they know themselves—and that thinks it’s better qualified to practice medicine than members of the Texas Medical Association or the American College of Gynecologists.
If Perry cared about the health and well-being of pregnant women and infants and children in Texas, he could have:
- taken the federal Medicaid expansion, which would have helped alleviate the strain of providing quality health care to low-income Texans in a state with the highest percentage of uninsured people in the entire country.
- championed a bill sponsored by state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) that would restore public funding to Planned Parenthood, which may be the most cost-effective, efficient provider of women’s health services in the state.
- championed any one of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez’s (D-El Paso) bills, which would increase access to contraception among teenage moms, particularly low-income teenage moms.
- championed a bill from state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) that would protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers in Texas.
This is but a sampling of the many proposals that could have helped reduce poverty and improve the health of Texans. But Rick Perry did not do any of these things. The three-term governor of Texas has built his political career on pandering and platitudes, on good ole’ boy cronyism and, in the case of his claims this week about supporting a culture of life, outright lies.
And in making this cowardly and despicable play with SB 5, Perry and his Republican colleagues have waited to strike until Democrats had been divested of their best weapon: the Texas Senate’s two-thirds rule, which requires the approval of two-thirds of state senators before a bill can make it to the floor. But that rule doesn’t stand in special session. Now that Republicans can steamroll any opposition, they’ve no need to “compromise” with Democrats, or pretend to play nice.
They can go back to dirty, underhanded, anti-uterus business as usual.