The most prominent anti-choice group in Texas targeted several incumbents in Tuesday’s Republican primary, but after the dust settled most of those lawmakers are still standing. The organization had hoped to increase the number of lawmakers who would support more restrictive anti-choice proposals blocked by moderate Republicans in recent years.
Texas Right to Life Political Action Committee (PAC), the political arm of Texas Right to Life, endorsed 18 candidates challenging incumbents in the Republican primary. Only three of those candidates prevailed: State Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) defeated state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) in Senate District 30; Mayes Middleton defeated state Rep. Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston) in House District 23; and Lisa Luby Ryan defeated state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) in House District 114.
Texas Right to Life PAC spent more than $1.1 million in political expenditures in the month leading up to the primary election, according to records from the Texas Ethics Commission.
The organization’s spending spree in the campaign’s final month appears to be largely financed by the fracking billionaire Wilks brothers, who contributed a combined $1.25 million to the Texas Right to Life PAC, campaign finance records show.
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Texas Right to Life has been the political force behind some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws passed by the GOP-majority Texas legislature, including a law passed in 2017 that created the state’s most sweeping abortion restrictions.
Despite the number of abortion restrictions passed by Texas lawmakers in recent years, the organization’s political action committee aggressively targeted incumbents who it claimed were not sufficiently opposed to abortion rights. Several of the Republican incumbents appear to have been targeted due to a vote in opposition to a single amendment.
State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) offered an amendment that would have prohibited an abortion due to “severe fetal abnormality” after 20 weeks. The amendment was tabled by a narrow vote last May. Twelve of the 16 house incumbents challenged by Texas Right to Life-backed candidates voted against the amendment.
For five incumbents, their vote against the Schaefer amendment was their only vote in opposition to Texas Right to Life legislative scores.
Texas Right to Life’s tactics have long been a source of tension within the conservative movement in the state. Those tactics have caused a public break between the organization and the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which in February issued a one-page written advisory claiming that Texas Right to Life’s scorecard of state lawmakers’ voting records “is not based on a fair analysis of a legislator’s work but rather upon whether a legislator has followed voting recommendations of Texas Right to Life.
Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, told the Austin American Statesman in February that the rift reached a breaking point when Texas Right to Life endorsed primary challengers to Republican lawmakers to whom the organization had given 100 percent ratings for votes on key bills during the legislative session in 2017.
Sen. Estes and Rep. Faircloth both received 100 percent ratings from Texas Right to Life, but the organization’s political arm endorsed their challengers.