88th LegislatureAudioHealthcareStatewide NewsVideoTexas Lawmakers Discuss Abortion Law, COVID-19 Vaccines, Texas Medical Board

Howard filed legislation creating an abortion law exception for victims of sexual assault, but Kolkhorst and Harris oppose a “slippery slope.”
January 27, 2023

During a panel discussion at The Texan’s 88th Session Kickoff on Tuesday, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Caroline Harris (R-Round Rock) discussed state policies on abortion, COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and the authority of the Texas Medical Board.

“Medicine is of course a science, but it also has judgment attached to it,” said Howard, a former critical care nurse and former president of the Texas Nurses Association.

Howard offered her comment during a discussion of Texas laws in effect following last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and returning the regulation of abortion to the states.

With Texas only permitting abortions if the mother is at risk of death or serious bodily impairment, Howard has filed legislation to create exceptions for rape and incest that would allow a physician to determine if an assault had occurred without a criminal report, which she said would re-traumatize victims.

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Kolkhorst responded that she had thought about the issue for a “long time,” but would not support the proposed exceptions.

“When you start making exceptions, it’s a slippery slope, and it does put the Legislature in a position at times to play God,” said Kolkhorst, who added that she would not vote for any legislation that does not mandate prosecution of sexual assaults.

Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, Kolkhorst also noted that while there had been 5,706 abortions reported in the state for August 2021, there were only three in August 2022.

“So if you look at the laws we’ve passed it has saved 5,703 lives just in that particular month.”

According to data from Texas Health and Human Services, abortions in Texas fell over 97 percent after the Supreme Court’s decision last June.

Harris suggested stronger support systems for victims of sexual assault and praised participants in the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, which provides support for women experiencing unexpected pregnancies.

“One of the things that I’m excited to work on as a new member in this session is how do we help those moms, first of all, in those traumatic situations,” said Harris. “How do we make it easier for them to report … how do we make it easier to remove them from those situations, love them, help them find healing, and do it in a tangible way?”

Regarding allegations that the state’s abortion laws have led to confusion over the legality of procedures to treat the life-threatening condition of ectopic pregnancy, Howard said she was drafting clarifying language.

Kolkhorst asserted state statute makes it clear that doctors may exercise professional judgment to proceed to save the life of the mother, and drew a correlation to controversy over COVID-19 treatments.

“During COVID we all of a sudden didn’t trust the judgment of a doctor; it had to be cookbook medicine, that you can only do ‘these’ procedures,” quipped Kolkhorst.

Early in the pandemic, Texas doctors prescribing hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin to treat COVID-19 or expressing opposition to rapidly developed vaccines faced backlash and loss of medical board certifications. Dr. Peter McCullough in Dallas lost medical board certifications, and Dr. Mary Talley Bowden faces a Texas Medical Board (TMB) hearing for complaints about her’s efforts to prescribe ivermectin; that hearing has been rescheduled for February 2023.

Howard acknowledged that doctors do not always agree, but regarding COVID-19 treatment said there was a “critical mass of agreement in the medical community about what the appropriate treatments were.”

“The decisions that we make about vaccinations when we’re talking about infectious diseases affect many others,” said Howard. “We’re talking about those who are immunocompromised and can’t get the vaccine if even they want it, young babies … those that have autoimmune diseases, those that are cancer patients. All kinds of people [whose] right to be in society is limited if they can’t safely go out without fear of being exposed to something.”

Noting that the TMB accepts and investigates anonymous complaints even from out-of-state third parties, Kolkhorst expressed support for reforms proposed by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood).

Both Harris and Kolkhorst voiced opposition to vaccine mandates, with Harris noting that many refusing the Emergency Use Authorized COVID-19 vaccines were not “anti-vax” but cautious due to limited data on risks and side effects.

“This is one of the fastest processes I think we’ve ever seen a vaccine go through, so we just want to make sure that it is safe, it is effective,” said Harris.

Kolkhorst cited allegations that COVID-19 vaccinations may weaken immunity or cause myocarditis, and said her committee would be considering the creation of a Texas Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, legislation for which has been filed by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).

“Look, let the data drive our decisions,” said Kolkhorst. “Does the COVID-19 vaccine really work?”

“I’m trying to reinstitute trust in public health,” insisted Kolkhorst. “I’m gonna just introduce common-sense legislation that says look, let’s go back to the data, let’s get past the darkness of those two and half years where you were canceled on social media or … your license was taken away, and let’s let the data drive our future decisions, and if we do that I believe that we can restore faith in our public health system.”


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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.