Texas GOP Unveils Plans for 2017 Anti-Choice Blitz

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Texas GOP Unveils Plans for 2017 Anti-Choice Blitz

Teddy Wilson

“They’ve never backed down from an opportunity to deny rights to certain populations,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Texas, said of the state's GOP legislators. “Whether that’s women, that’s immigrants, that’s the LGBT population.”

Targeting reproductive rights in 2017 will once again be a top priority for Texas Republicans, as lawmakers have introduced a number of proposals to restrict abortion care access.

Texas legislators, who will return to the state capitol January 10, pre-filed more than 600 bills last week.

Delegates at the Texas Republican Party convention in May approved a list of legislative priorities that included prohibiting abortion in the state “by enacting legislation to stop the murder of unborn children.”

If lawmakers are unable to outlaw abortion in the state through legislative means, Texas Republicans have pledged to “ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.”

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), former talk-radio host turned arch-conservative lawmaker, last Monday laid out his priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Patrick said in a statement his priorities would include “increasing criminal penalties for buying or selling human fetal tissue” and a ban on later abortion care.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Texas, told Rewire she expects the results of the presidential election to embolden Texas Republicans. 

“They’ve never backed down from an opportunity to deny rights to certain populations,” Busby said. “Whether that’s women, that’s immigrants, that’s the LGBT population.”

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said during a press conference that Democrats are not going to “sit back and watch” while Republican lawmakers continue to restrict reproductive rights.

“We’re prepared to do what we need to do to prevent the continuing erosion of women having control of their own bodies and making decisions about their own families,” Howard said. “We are going to do whatever we can to insert evidence-based policymaking that respects the rights of all Texans.”

SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), would prohibit physicians from performing the intact dilation and evacuation (D and X) abortion procedure, referred to in the bill by the non-medical terminology of “partial-birth abortion.”

Patrick lent his support to the bill, and said in a statement that lawmakers should pass the legislation “in order to prosecute those who perpetrate this horrific practice.”

However, the D and X abortion procedure is already prohibited by federal law.

Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Rewire that it is “classic political posturing” for lawmakers to introduce redundant legislation that duplicates federal law.

“The so-called partial-birth abortion ban that took effect on the federal level of course applies to individual states laws,” Allen said. “Introducing a duplicative law is really just that politician making it as clear as they can that they oppose abortion.”

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision.

SB 8 would also ban the sale of fetal tissue, which is already prohibited by federal law, and would impose new regulations and restrictions on the donation of fetal tissue. The measure is similar to other attempts by Republican legislators across the nation to attack fetal-tissue research after a series of discredited videos from an anti-choice front group accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the donation of fetal tissue. GOP-led investigations into the matter have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

The Texas proposal would only allow the donation of fetal tissue by an “authorized facility,” and fetal tissue could only be donated to an “accredited university for use in research that has been approved by an institutional review board.”

The bill states that a facility “may not donate human fetal tissue, placenta, or an umbilical cord that is obtained from an elective abortion,” though the bill does not define what constitutes an “elective abortion.”

The bill was co-authored by state Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).

In the state house, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) introduced a bill, HB 201, which would require that “a health care facility in this state that provides health or medical care to a pregnant woman shall dispose of any fetal remains related to that care, regardless of the period of gestation or weight of the fetus,” by either burial or cremation.

Cook told KEYE News that the bill is not an “attempt to restrict women’s access,” but that it is intended to improve the disposal of fetal tissue.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in August and November heard public comments on a similar proposed regulationThe measures would create a host of concerns over patient privacy and religious freedom, and there are complicated legal and administrative questions that remain unanswered.

A fetal burial rule would add around $2,000 to the cost of abortion care, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas.

Busby told Rewire that the proposals would only serve to make a difficult situation even worse. “It’s meant to add stigma and shame to abortion,” Busby said. “It’s also very traumatic for someone who has a miscarriage to have to sign off on a burial.”

HB 87, sponsored by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), would remove the exception provided under Texas law that allows for an abortion in the third trimester if the “fetus has a severe and irreversible abnormality, identified by reliable diagnostic procedures.”

A similar bill failed to pass during the 2015 legislative session due to a procedural technicality.

Under Texas law, a “severe fetal abnormality” is defined as a “life threatening physical condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Busby said that Schaefer’s proposal is “particularly cruel” because it targets pregnant people and families who are “facing heartbreaking situations.”

HB 144, also sponsored by Schaefer, would require abortion providers to submit monthly electronic reports to the DSHS. Abortion providers are already required to submit annual reports.

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), would allow the Health and Human Services Commission to revoke the licenses of birthing centers, abortion facilities, and ambulatory surgical centers if they are determined to be “bad actors.” 

A “personhood”-like measure is also among the state’s pre-filed bills. SJR 9, sponsored by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), proposes the Texas Constitution be amended to include that the “right to life appl[ies] to an unborn child.” The bill includes language that would grant legal rights to embryos and fetuses. 

The amendment, which would need to be approved by voters on the November 2017 ballot, would ban abortion in the state to the “fullest extent authorized under federal constitutional law as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.”