86th LegislatureHealthcareState HouseState Senate“Super Bowl Session” Produces Few Pro-life Victories

The 86th Legislature included few pro-life victories, exposing a public rift between lawmakers and activist organizations.
May 28, 2019
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Now that the 86th Legislature has come to an end, an analysis of pro-life legislation has placed Texas in the middle of the pack instead of leading it.

Texas only passed two noteworthy pro-life bills this session. The first bill, HB 16 (The Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act), grants an abortion survivor the same medical rights as a premature baby born at the same gestational age. The second bill (SB 22) prevents cities and state entities (except some hospitals) from funding Planned Parenthood or affiliated organizations.

After a controversial late-term abortion bill was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year, 15 states introduced measures to ban abortions as early as six weeks into the pregnancy.

Notably, Texas was not among states like Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and several others that passed “heartbeat bills” making abortion illegal around 8 weeks into the pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Representative Briscoe Cain’s (R-Deer Park) HB 1500, the Texas Heartbeat Bill, was filed, but stalled almost immediately. Despite 60 plus legislative supporters, Cain’s bill did not even receive a hearing in the Committee on Public Health, chaired by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).

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Amid a nation-wide wave of pro-life legislative momentum, and Texas’ comparatively muted efforts, Texas Republican leaders like Lt. Governor Dan Patrick made public statements saying, “We are clearly the most pro-life state in the country.”

On May 24, Governor Mike Parson of Missouri put that statement to the test when he signed the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act” into law. This law prohibits abortions in non-medical emergencies after eight weeks of gestational age and contains an emergency clause that requires written notification of consent from a parent or guardian for an abortion to be performed on a minor.

The day before Missouri joined other states in advancing pro-life legislation, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) held a press conference at the governor’s mansion to celebrate a deal on property taxes, teacher pay, and school finance reform. At the event, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick stated two of the top reasons he entered politics: reducing property taxes and the number of abortions in the state.

Patrick, speaking about this year’s policy accomplishments, memorably declared, “We have had the Super Bowl of legislative sessions in the history of this state, and I think in the history of this country.”

While the end-of-session school finance and property tax package indeed signaled significant changes and reforms that were not easy to attain, the state is seemingly lagging behind on life.

Out of the four states that border Texas, three are ranked higher on the 2019 Life List by Americans United for Life. Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma rank second, third, and fourth respectively.

Indeed, the Louisiana legislature all but passed an amendment to their state constitution which would exclude the right to abortion.

Louisiana’s HB 425, the Love Life Amendment, passed the Senate by a 31-4 margin, clearing the two-thirds margin needed for a ballot vote. If the House concurs, HB 425 will go to the Louisiana Secretary of State for placement on the October 12 ballot for ratification by Louisiana voters.

The Love Life Amendment, Louisiana Right to Life’s 2019 flagship legislation, would ensure that there is no right to abortion or taxpayer funding of abortion under Louisiana’s constitution.

Dorinda Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund said, “If and when Roe v. Wade is reversed and the issue is sent back to the states, this constitutional amendment will block the efforts of abortion industry lawyers to get Louisiana state court judges to impose the trauma and violence of abortion through our state constitution.”

Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life responded to a request from The Texan to comment on Texas’ pro-life accomplishments in the 2019 legislature.

Pojman said, “We view this as a successful session highlighted by the passing of HB16, The Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, SB 22 to defund Planned Parenthood at the local level, and increased funding for compassionate alternatives to abortion.”

HB 16 would require a physician to preserve the life and health of a child born alive after an abortion, just as they would to any other child born alive at the same gestational age. The bill includes a requirement that the physician who performed or attempted the abortion immediately transfers the born alive child to a hospital.

A physician who fails to provide the appropriate medical treatment to a child born alive after an abortion would be liable to the state for a civil penalty of at least $100,000. The attorney general would also be authorized to bring a suit to collect the penalty as well.

But not all pro-life advocates see this as a major win.

Kimberlyn Schwartz, media director with Texas Right to Life, was tempered in her characterization of HB 16.

She said, “Although symbolizing pro-life values, HB 16 does not stop abortion.”

SB 22 was enacted to prohibit taxpayer dollars at both the state and local level from being used to fund abortion facilities and affiliates. Exemptions are made for licensed hospitals, licensed physician offices that perform fewer than 50 abortions per year, state hospitals, teaching hospitals, and accredited residency programs.

Both Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life view SB 22 as a noteworthy pro-life victory.

Pojman also mentioned SB 24, which ensures women receive information on alternatives to abortion, and HB 902 which increase penalties for assaulting pregnant women, as significant wins.

However, Schwartz said, “[SB24] was a huge missed opportunity to fix multiple problems and loopholes in Texas’ informed consent law…Unfortunately, we were told that those promoting this legislation wanted an easy win.”

Schwartz also highlighted multiple pro-life bills beyond just the heartbeat bill that the 2019 legislature failed to pass during the self-declared “Super Bowl” session.

  • SB 1033/HB 2434 would have ended the remaining late-term abortions in Texas, prohibited discriminatory abortions for reasons of race, sex, or suspected disability, and would have given families life-affirming medical and social services for their preborn child with a life-limiting diagnosis. This bill was listed as a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas and Young Republicans. The bill passed through the committees in both chambers, passed the full Senate, but ultimately died in the House Committee on Calendars.
  • SB 2089/HB 3158 would have reformed the 10-Day Rule, whereby hospitals have the ability to cease treatment for a patient should a doctor deem continued treatment “futile,” giving families only 10 days to transfer their loved one to another facility for care. However, that reform petered out in the House Calendars Committee.
  • SB 1107/HB 2892 would have enacted protections for all healthcare professionals who conscientiously object to certain training, procedures, or medical decisions, like abortion. Neither bill received a hearing.
  • HB 896 would have outlawed abortion in Texas. The bill received a hearing in the House Committee on Judiciary and Criminal Jurisprudence, but died in committee. It was also the subject of immense national attention after Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) filed it.
  • HB 3605 would have given legal representation to unborn children in a court proceeding where a pregnant minor seeks judicial approval to forego parental consent to an abortion, giving an official voice and guardian for the unborn child in those court proceedings. The bill was heard and passed out of the House Committee on Judiciary and Criminal Jurisprudence but was stopped by the House Committee on Calendars.

On the last day of session, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, responding to a question from the Houston Chronicle about criticism from Texas Right to Life, said, “They aren’t worth responding to.”

Bonnen told reporters Monday, “If we passed every pro-life bill filed in the history of the state, they would say we had not done enough. You will never please or appease those folks and I’m sure as hell not going to waste my time trying.”

According to a 2019 study by the Guttmacher Institute, ten other states have protections for the unborn at earlier stages of development than Texas.

The AUL Life List ranks Texas at No. 13 based on an analysis of each state’s legal protections for human life from conception to natural death.

Given the public divide between Texas elected officials and activists on what constitutes success on the pro-life policy front, it’s unclear what lies ahead when it comes to pro-life legislation for the 87th Legislature.

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Tony Guajardo

Tony Guajardo

Tony Guajardo is a reporter for The Texan. He has been involved in politics since the fall of 2012 when he served as an intern for the now-retired U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio). He is a native of Fort Worth, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University.