Commentary Abortion

Texas Consolidates its Most Horrifying Anti-Choice Bills Into One Nightmare Piece of Legislation

Andrea Grimes

After a legislative session hailed for its supposed "compromise" on abortion, Texas Republicans have taken the first opportunity to force through an omnibus anti-choice bill that contains the worst of this year's proposed abortion restrictions.

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requiring doctors to provide the abortion pill (a mifepristol/mifepristone combination) in person and according to outdated 13-year-old Food and Drug Administration regulations that are not only unnecessary, but thought to be potentially harmful in current practice, according to the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:

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.

News Abortion

Texas Pro-Choice Advocates Push Back Against State’s Anti-Choice Pamphlet

Teddy Wilson

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated since 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.

Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.

Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.

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John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.

“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.

More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.

State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.  

Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.

Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.

Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”

Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.

The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.

“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.

“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.

News Law and Policy

Texas Could Be Next to Give Police Hate Crime Protections

Teddy Wilson

Police officers have shot and killed 165 people in Texas since the start of 2015. Of those, 35 were Black men, 12 of whom were unarmed. There were 2 officers killed by firearms in Texas in 2015.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Monday that he would ask the state legislature to pass a law classifying acts of violence committed against law enforcement officers as hate crimes, mimicking a similar measure passed by Louisiana lawmaker.

Abbott said in a statement that the proposal is intended to send a message.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said.

Abbott will ask the GOP-held Texas legislature to pass the Police Protection Act during the upcoming 2017 legislative session, which convenes in January. The proposal would extend hate crime protections to law enforcement officers.

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Abbott’s proposal would increase criminal penalties for any crime against a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether or not the crime qualifies as a hate crime. The proposal would create a campaign to “educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities.”

Abbott’s proposal comes in the wake of a shooting in Dallas that left five police officers dead, and six others injured. Micah Xavier Johnson targeted police officers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, before he was killed by law enforcement.  

Police officers killed at least 1,146 people in the United States in 2015, according to the Guardian’s database The Counted. Police officers have shot and killed 165 people in Texas since the start of 2015. Of those, 35 were Black men, 12 of whom were unarmed, according to the Guardian’s database. There were two officers killed by gunfire in Texas in 2015, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

Police in Texas have shot and killed 53 people so far in 2016, per the Guardian‘s database.

The Dallas shooting increased the urgency of calls to increase the penalties for violence against law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced similar legislation in Congress, designed to make killing a police officer a federal crime. Cornyn said in a statement that police officers protect communities and deserve “unparalleled support.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in May signed into law the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill, which amended the state’s hate crime law to include acts of violence against any “law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”

Proponents of laws creating more penalties for crimes against law enforcement claim these measures are needed because of a growing threat of targeted violence against law enforcement. Data shows that violence against law enforcement has declined to historically low levels, while killings of civilians by police officers have risen dramatically.

Violent attacks on law enforcement officers are lower under President Obama than they have been under the previous four presidential administrations, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of data from the Officers Down Memorial Page.

During the Reagan presidency, there was an average of 101 law enforcement officers intentionally killed per year; during the George H.W. Bush administration, there was an average of 90 police killed per year; during the Clinton years, there was an average of 81 police killings annually; and during George W. Bush’s presidency, there was an average of 72 police killings via stabbings, gunfire, bombings, and vehicular assault per year.

There have been an average of 62 law enforcement officers killed annually during Obama’s seven and a half years in the White House.

The number of Texans who died during the course of an arrest almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, according to an analysis of state data by the Dallas Morning News. The increase in deaths coincided with a 20 percent reduction in the number of arrests statewide.

Matt Simpson, a policy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that the number of deaths during arrests in Texas add to the evidence of systemic racism within the justice system.

“We have pretty strong evidence in a variety of ways that the criminal justice system is disproportionate,” Simpson said. “These numbers are unfortunately stark reminders.”

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