Texas’ GOP-dominated House of Representatives on Thursday gave its final approval to a bill that would require people who work or volunteer for Texas’ few remaining abortion facilities, and who have “direct contact with patients,” to take a state-mandated training course on human trafficking.
HB 416‘s sponsor, state Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Spring), said that the bill is intended to protect victims of human trafficking who may be forced to receive abortions against their will, but critics of her proposal say that it is yet another targeted regulation of abortion providers masquerading under the guise of assisting trafficked Texans.
Its companion bill in the Texas senate, SB 1873, is sponsored by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).
“Not expanding these bills to include all medical providers represents a serious missed opportunity for intervention,” Drew Stanley, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ digital communications manager, wrote in a blog post this week.
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Some Democratic lawmakers, during hearings of the bills, proposed adding the trafficking training requirement for doctors and medical providers in emergency rooms, general practitioners’ offices, and dentists’ offices, but Riddle rejected those compromises.
“I think that it’s always great for any kind of service provider to have a really good understanding of trafficking across the spectrum,” said Kate D’Adamo, national policy advocate at the New York City-based Sex Workers Project. D’Adamo told Rewire that the shrinking number of abortion providers in Texas means that HB 416 would reach only a fraction of the number of Texans who have been trafficked.
“Constraining it to abortion providers is not just a narrow view of who people come into contact with,” said D’Adamo, but “it ultimately is going to miss a lot of people who are in trafficking situations.”
She said that the bill relies on “assumptions” about what human trafficking is—it includes not only forced sex work, but also farm, factory, and construction work in a state as big as Texas—and that, with HB 416, “you’re necessarily going to miss all [cisgender] men in trafficking situations.”
D’Adamo added that screening and training, on its own, would also not guarantee that any resources would be available for Texans who need help leaving trafficking situations.
“So many of these bills are really focused on identification and not on providing ample resources for when someone is identified,” D’Adamo said. “It’d be great if this bill was attached to appropriations for crisis centers and job training.”
During testimony on the bill, which mandates training for abortion clinic employees and volunteers and does not provide follow-up resources for patients who may be trafficked, Texas abortion providers detailed their procedures for screening for abortion coercion and trafficking situations, emphasizing that they already screen patients to ensure that they’re not being forced into obtaining unwanted abortions.
HB 416 will now be sent to the Texas Senate for consideration in that chamber, controlled by Republicans with a 20-11 majority.