Abortion advocates brace for an unsettling era in Texas

by | Dec 2, 2020 | Policy, Reproductive Health

For pro-choice activists, the next year in Texas, often considered a bellwether for access to abortion, could be harrowing. Anti-choice attacks are being waged in Texas not only at the legislature, but also the courts, and it’s likely that’s going to intensify even more.

Last week Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is being investigated by the FBI, celebrated a legal victory against Planned Parenthood, a constant target for Texas Republicans. The US Court Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit brought by the state of Texas which asked that the healthcare provider be removed from a Medicaid fund.

Paxton, embroiled in a bribery and abuse of office scandal, celebrated the legal victory for conservatives. “The Fifth Circuit correctly rejected Planned Parenthood’s efforts to prevent Texas from excluding them from the state’s Medicaid program. Undercover video plainly showed Planned Parenthood admitting to morally bankrupt and unlawful conduct, including violations of federal law by manipulating the timing and methods of abortions to obtain fetal tissue for their own research. Planned Parenthood is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, and it should not receive public funding through the Medicaid program,” wrote Paxton.

Planned Parenthood of Texas noted that the ruling has yet to take effect. Alexis McGill Johnson, the national President and CEO of Planned Parenthood, emphasized on Twitter that it would have a “devastating impact” on many Texans, particularly “people of color, women, and people with low incomes.”

Rewire News, which tracks anti-choice bills in state legislatures, has already chronicled several bills which have been filed since November 9, the first day Texas lawmakers could prefile legislation. HB 69, introduced by State Rep. Steve Toth, would decrease the state’s existing 20-week abortion ban to 12 weeks. HB 69 only carves out an exception for a pregnant person who is at risk of dying or facing grievous bodily harm.

State Rep. Drew Springer, who is in a runoff election against salon owner Shelley Luther in Senate District 30, prefiled HB 279. The bill is essentially a trigger law, that if passed, would make abortion illegal in the state of Texas if the Supreme Court were to strike down Roe v. Wade.

Democrats were hoping to capture nine seats in the Texas state legislature to give them a slim majority this cycle. Instead, Republicans maintained their very firm grip on the state legislature. State Rep. Dade Phelan is expected to be the next House Speaker thanks to a broad coalition of support, including from Texas Democrats. Phelan’s overtures to Texas Democrats have not been embraced by many conservative or tea party Republicans.

Texas GOP Chairman Allen West blasted Phelan in a message to his supporters. “Texas will not allow the undermining of our Texas Republic. This is why the Republican Party of Texas is perplexed, and will not support, a potential Texas Speaker of the House who would seek affirmation from progressive socialist Democrats to attain that position,” wrote West.

Anti-choice activists have also increasingly looked beyond the legislature, and have focused on local efforts to curb abortion access. Anti-choice activists, largely organized by the Texas Right to Life PAC, obtained enough signatures on a petition to force the Lubbock City Council to consider an ordinance making the jurisdiction “a sanctuary city for the unborn.”

The Lubbock City Council unanimously voted down the ordinance in a 7-0 decision. Anti-choice activists, however, have been successful in several small towns in Texas, none with an abortion clinic, in getting their city councils to proclaim the title of “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”

After the ruling in Lubbock, the ACLU of Texas noted that the anti-choice ordinance is unconstitutional. “Abortion is legal in every state and city in the country,” they wrote. Even in Texas, that’s the law of the land, though a number of Republicans are working overtime to reverse that.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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A longtime writer and journalist, Jessica was thrilled to join the Texas Signal where she could utilize her unique perspective on politics and culture. As the Features and Opinion Editor, she is responsible for coordinating editorials and segments from diverse authors. She is also the host of the podcast the Tex Mix, as well as the co-host for the weekly SignalCast. Jessica attended Harvard College, is a onetime fitness blogger, and has now transitioned to recreational runner (for which her joints are thankful).

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