Texas Republicans consider next steps if Roe falls | Community alert
In their 20 years in control of the Texas Legislature, Republican lawmakers have worked tirelessly to reduce access to abortion.
Bound by the Limits of Roe v. Wade, who stopped them from enacting an outright ban on the procedure, lawmakers got creative. They demanded that abortion clinics have wide hallways and delegated private citizens to sue providers in an effort to shut down facilities that offer the procedure.
Future legislation on the subject will probably not require such ingenuity. A leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, published last week by Politico, suggests the court will overturn the landmark abortion ruling in the coming weeks, allowing states to regulate abortion as they see fit. Texas has a “trigger law” that would make abortion a crime, which would take effect 30 days after the Supreme Court overturns Roe.
With their decades-long goal achieved, Republican lawmakers said there was still work to be done. Texas GOP leaders and members of the Legislative Assembly said now is the time to turn their attention to strengthening the social safety net for women and children and investing in foster care and of adoption.
“It only makes sense,” said Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands. “The dog has grabbed the car now.”
At least some of the more conservative members of the House have said they also want to ensure strict enforcement of the abortion ban and prevent pregnant Texans from seeking legal abortions in other states.
“I think I can speak for myself and for other colleagues who align themselves with my political beliefs – we will continue to do our best to make abortion not just illegal, but unthinkable,” the rep said. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, member of the far-right Freedom Caucus group.
Texas already has an arsenal of laws to punish virtually anyone involved in obtaining an abortion, said Liz Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. These include last year’s Senate Bill 8, which allows private citizens to sue anyone who “encourages” an abortion after six weeks of gestational age, as well as pre-Roe abortion laws. unenforced criminalizing a person who obtains the procedure, which the legislature never repealed. – some dating from the 1850s.
“If Roe is overruled, there’s already a criminal ban, there’s already a complicity ban, there’s already a ban on sending abortion drugs,” Sepper said. “In terms of the law’s ability to change behavior, they have almost closed all the gaps except criminalizing the pregnant person involved in an abortion.”
Cain said he has a vested interest in taking on abortion funds, which solicit contributions from donors to help defray the cost of out-of-state travel for pregnant Texans to receive the procedure. , citing a state law that prohibits “providing the means to procure an abortion.”
In a March letter to one such group, the Lilith Fund, Cain threatened to introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would empower district attorneys to prosecute abortion-related crimes across the country. state, even when local authorities refuse to do so.
Attempts to bar individuals from contributing to abortion funds would likely violate First Amendment protections on free speech, said Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, a professor at the South Texas College of Law.
“Helping people get abortions will be one of those tough questions that will arise in a post-Roe world if a legislature tries to criminalize a pregnant person’s ability to get an abortion somewhere where it’s legal.” , Rhodes said.
Cain said he was talking with other Republicans about other abortion-related legislative priorities, but it was premature to discuss them. The next legislative session is due to begin in January.
Texas Democrats, who are heavily outnumbered in the Legislature, called the leaked opinion “grim” but said they would not stop fighting for abortion access.
“This will only fuel our fight to codify abortion rights at the federal level,” Hannah Roe Beck, co-executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a press release. “It’s more important than ever that we elect leaders willing to put everything on the line to get this passed by Congress.” We cannot tolerate anything less.
A congressional effort to do so, however, failed to pass the Senate in February. Another vote scheduled for this week is also expected to fail.
Austin State Rep. Donna Howard talked about expanding the safety net in terms of pregnant Texans who will still seek abortions.
“How can we provide enough health care to those we are going to force into pregnancies and carry them to term? Howard said. “It will be more focused, I think, on that now, if there’s a way to see how people can access medical abortion, it’s a way around the law.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a staunchly conservative Republican, said in a statement Tuesday that the Legislature will continue to strengthen adoption programs in the state.
“Texas has led the way in protecting innocent life in the womb, and we will continue to do so in the future in the Texas Senate,” Patrick said.
Governor Greg Abbott did not respond to questions from the Texas Tribune about abortion-related legislative priorities for the upcoming January session. House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement that he was confident the Legislature would “rise to the occasion and redouble its commitment to maternal health care in our state.”
State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, the author of SB 8, did not respond. He posted on Twitter Thursday that Texas would “lead the way in a post-Roe world.”
Republicans have good reason to avoid discussing pre-Roe Texas law enforcement, said Renée Cross of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs: A total ban on abortion is widely unpopular with voters.
Just 15% of respondents in a University of Texas at Austin poll released this week said they supported banning all abortions. Most troubling about Abbott’s re-election bid this year, Cross said, is the fact that a majority of independents said they believe abortion should be available in most circumstances.
“The Republican Party was able to rely on independent voters often, but not on this issue,” Cross said. “We’ve seen Republican voters, especially suburban women, not voting for President Trump in 2020. Many of these women will likely think twice about voting for Governor Abbott.”
Other Republican lawmakers have spoken of proposing non-punitive measures in the next legislative session. Toth said if abortion is banned in the state, Republicans in the statehouse will focus on expanding social programs to help pregnant women and their children.
“Now more than ever, the pro-life community and lawmakers need to step up and make sure we help women in pregnancy crisis,” he said. “That means prenatal care, helping them stay in school. That means making sure we help women once the baby is born, that means adoption services.
Toth said expanding safety net programs would be a “moral response” to the state’s abortion ban. Such an expansion would require increased state funding for adoption services, foster homes and welfare programs, which Republicans have been reluctant to support in the past. But Toth, a member of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he believed GOP lawmakers would now support increased funding.
Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life, said he would also support increased funding for the Alternative to Abortions program, which the Legislature has funded with $100 million this two-year budget cycle. The program pays a wide network of nonprofits — many of them ardently anti-abortion — for counseling, classes on prenatal nutrition and newborn care, and the provision of baby items.
But Pojman says lawmakers need to promote the program better so more pregnant women have access to it.
“For a lot of women who end up pregnant, they don’t even know it exists,” he said.
State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee responsible for drafting the budget, said he would support increased funding for social safety net programs for pregnant women and young children.
He said he would push for increased Medicaid coverage for low-income new mothers. This cover was extended last year from 60 days to six months, but experts had recommended extending it for an entire year.
House lawmakers agreed to extend it for a year, but the Senate cut coverage to six months during final negotiations for the 2021 legislative session.
“Now we have to work very hard to help these new moms and new babies,” Capriglione said. “I’ll push for it.”
But Republicans are also bracing for a protracted fight with Democrats in Congress who will be re-energized to push for abortion access at the federal level.
“It’s not going away,” Toth said. “Nothing really changes.”
Rhodes, the South Texas law professor, said Roe’s potential overthrow could also weaken federal protections guaranteeing access to contraceptives. He said states could consider reclassifying emergency contraception such as Plan B, the pill that prevents pregnancy by delaying the release of an egg from the ovary, as forms of abortion.
“It’s quite open, with the creativity of our legislature lately, to create additional restrictions on our reproductive freedoms,” Rhodes said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/09/texas-republicans-roe-wade-abortion-adoptions/.
Disclosure: Politico, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston and its Hobby School of Public Affairs financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations of members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, member-supported newsroom that informs and engages Texans about politics and state politics. Learn more at texastribune.org.