Roundups Abortion

Legislative Lowlights: Texas Republicans Want Fetuses to Have Lawyers

Brie Shea

The latest wave of anti-choice measures includes a bill backed by Alabama Republicans that would make abortion a felony offense.

Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures. Here’s an overview of the bills we’re watching.

Lawmakers in Texas advanced measures that would appoint lawyers for fetuses and require pregnant people to obtain pre-abortion counseling; Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a fetal “heartbeat” ban, or near total abortion ban, into law, while the Louisiana’s state senate advanced their own “heartbeat” ban; and a bill criminalizing abortion advanced in Alabama’s GOP-dominated legislature.

Alabama

In a 74-3 vote, Republicans in the state house last Tuesday passed HB 314, which would make abortion and attempted abortion felony offenses. Except in cases in which abortion is necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the pregnant person, the “Human Life Protection Act” would make abortion a Class A felony, punishable by ten years to life in prison. An attempted abortion would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. Republican lawmakers tabled an amendment offered by state House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D) that would have provided an exception for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Nearly all Democratic house members walked out in protest before the vote.

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The measure—which supporters admit is designed to challenge Roe v. Wade—has a hearing scheduled with the state senate judiciary committee on May 8.

Georgia

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB 481 last Tuesday, a measure that bans most abortions in the state. The “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act” prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The measure, which was passed by the Georgia General Assembly in March, includes exceptions for medical emergencies and pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.

HB 481 requires any abortion after the first trimester be performed in a licensed hospital, a licensed ambulatory surgical center, or a licensed abortion facility. Only a licensed physician may perform an abortion. The law contains a fetal “personhood” provision that defines “natural person” to mean “any human being including an unborn child”—raising concerns that fetal rights will be placed above the rights of a pregnant person.

Lawmakers in 15 states have introduced “heartbeat bans” this session, and four states have passed the near total abortion ban: Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. The measures in Kentucky and Mississippi are already facing legal challenges. Similar bans have been blocked in Arkansas, Iowa, and North Dakota.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) intends to challenge the law, which is scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next year.

Louisiana

The state senate on Monday passed SB 184, which would prohibit a person from performing an abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The near total abortion ban includes exceptions for when it’s necessary to prevent the death or serious injury of the pregnant person. A physician who performs or induces an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected would have their medical license revoked, be fined up to $1,000, and face up to two years in prison. The ban would not apply to abortions performed when a pregnancy is diagnosed as medically futile. Six Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 31-5 vote:

The state senate judiciary committee last week amended the bill so that it would only take effect if a similar measure in Mississippi is upheld by the courts—a change the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. John Milkovich, objected to. During the hearing, Milkovich invited anti-choice activists to speak, including Jennifer McCoy, who served time for trying to burn down abortion clinics in Virginia in the 1990s. McCoy has been linked to Scott Roeder, who murdered Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.

The measure now heads to the state house.

Montana

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday vetoed a measure that would have required abortion providers to inform patients of the opportunity to view ultrasound images of the fetus and listen to the fetal heart tone prior to an abortion.

Bullock—who is expected to announce his bid for the presidency this month—has two other anti-choice measures waiting for his signature: a measure banning abortion at 20 weeks, and a measure that would make it a felony to deny “medically appropriate and reasonable medical care” to infants born after a failed abortion. The governor hasn’t indicated whether he will sign either measure, but he vetoed a 20-week ban in 2017.

North Carolina 

The state senate last Tuesday voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of SB 359, the so-called Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Under SB 359, a health-care practitioner who fails to provide the appropriate degree of care to a child born alive would face felony charges. Born-alive measures are based on a myth that doctors murder children “born alive” after failed abortions. Contrary to the repeated lies from anti-abortion groups, lawmakers, and even the president and vice president, this type of legislation only serves to promote violence against abortion providers.

In his veto message, Cooper highlighted how unnecessary the legislation is:

Laws already protect newborn babies and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients. This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other healthcare providers for a practice that simply does not exist.

North Carolina Republicans lost their veto-proof supermajorities in the General Assembly in last year’s midterm elections. Unlike regular votes, veto overrides require a 60 percent supermajority. Democratic state Sen. Don Davis (D-Pitt County) joined Republicans to override the veto in a 30-20 vote. Based on previous votes, it looks like Republicans in the state house won’t have enough votes for an override, though there’s a slight chance.

An override vote in the state house has been delayed three times in the past week. The latest vote is scheduled for May 7.

Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Thursday signed HB 1151 into law, a measure that redefines “public place” for purposes of the offense of indecent exposure to include restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, or showers. The law will enhance the punishment for anyone who commits indecent exposure in such facilities. Republicans say it only criminalizes public sex acts, but opponents of the bill worry that transgender people will still face harassment.

The measure will take effect July 1.

The state house last Tuesday passed HB 1274, which would direct the state attorney general to defend local school districts in any court or administrative tribunal arising out of the adoption of a policy designating multi-person restrooms, locker rooms, or other facilities for use based only on one’s biological sex. Three Democrats joined Republicans to pass the measure: state Reps. John DeBerry (D-Memphis), Joe Towns (D-Memphis), and John Mark Windle (D-Livingston).

The state senate opted not to vote on the measure before recess, which means the bill won’t be considered again until 2020.

Texas

The GOP-held state senate on Friday passed SB 2243, which would require pregnant people to receive counseling prior to an abortion. Except during a medical emergency and prior to the performance of an abortion, a physician would be required to certify that the pregnant person received pre-abortion counseling. The counselor would need to be approved by the state and could not be employed by, contracted with, or have a pecuniary interest in an abortion facility.

Opponents of the measure fear pregnant people would be forced to obtain counseling at crisis pregnancy centers—anti-choice clinics that routinely use scare tactics and dispense false information about abortion. State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) added a provision requiring counselors to provide the certification within one business day or “as soon as practical” after the appointment. His other amendment, which would have required counselors to be licensed health-care professionals, was voted down. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 20-10 vote.

The bill is pending in the state house.

The state house judiciary and civil jurisprudence committee on Monday advanced HB 3605, which would require the state provide lawyers to represent fetuses in some court proceedings. The bill would permit a court to appoint an attorney to represent a fetus or embryo should a pregnant minor wish to waive the state’s parental consent requirements by petitioning a local court. The measure is similar to a 2014 Alabama law that was later blocked in federal court.

The bill would require the state attorney general to develop and maintain a registry for qualified attorneys who have voluntarily notified the state of their willingness to serve—or have been asked and have consented to serve—as attorneys for an “unborn child” in a judicial bypass proceeding.

This isn’t the first time Republicans in Texas have attempted to pass legislation that would provide lawyers for fetuses. Similar measures were introduced in 2015 and 2017 that would have required the state to appoint attorneys for the fetuses of braindead pregnant people. Both attempts failed.

The measure now heads to the full state house for consideration.

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