One of the rumors at the beginning of the year about how the 2019 Texas Legislative Session would unfold was that the legislature would largely avoid the big social issues that it has pursued in years past. While that turned out to be true in some cases, there was one area in which the Texas Legislature seemed unwilling to relent: the attack on abortion and reproductive healthcare.
Forty anti-abortion bills were filed this session, of which three became law. Working with members of the Texas House — and the hundreds of ACLU of Texas supporters who contacted their elected officials — dozens of anti-abortion bills were defeated. In some of the biggest votes of the session, more and more legislators voted in favor of abortion rights than ever before.
Unfortunately, for thousands of people who have sought abortion care in Texas and will need it in the future, the increase in legislative support is not good enough. Though no outright bans on abortion were passed, a ban does not need to occur in order to severely limit and stigmatize reproductive healthcare in Texas.
House Bill 16 is a piece of pointless legislation that successfully did just that; stigmatize abortion care and intimidate abortion providers. With this bill, anti-abortion extremists sought to protect fetuses delivered after a botched abortion, when in fact, since Texas began collecting data on the procedures in 2013, there is not a single recorded instance of this happening. In the hypothetical instance where it might happen, existing law already ensures that the attending physician would “do no harm” to the fetus.
Therefore, all HB 16 really did was allow anti-abortion lawmakers to attack doctors and a person’s constitutional right to an abortion. When the bill passed the House, some lawmakers bravely decided to cast a protest vote of “present not voting,” passionately calling out this nonsense legislation. Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough to stop the bill; the Governor signed it into law and goes into effect September 1, 2019.
Then came Senate Bill 22. After years of trying, the Texas Legislature finally passed a ban on affiliation with abortion providers. The bill states that no government entity, including cities and counties, can partner with an abortion provider or any affiliate of an abortion provider.
Fundamentally, the bill was an attack on our coalition partner Planned Parenthood. The net impact of the bill is that it will make it extremely hard for Planned Parenthood to provide many basic healthcare services such as pap smears, breast cancer screenings, and HIV prevention kits. The legislation was a clear attack on reproductive rights organizations in an effort to dismantle their operations funding.
Despite the bad bills that passed this session, the legislative portfolio for helping protect Texans’ reproductive rights is trending in the right direction — more reproductive rights bills were filed, more legislators voted to defend the right to abortion, and more anti-abortion bills were defeated than ever before.
While there is hope on the horizon, the session was a reminder that the relentless attacks on reproductive rights in Texas are not going anywhere. Together we must fight to keep the fundamental freedom of reproductive healthcare not only legal but accessible for all Texans who need it.