2017 Legislative Wrap Up

On Memorial Day, the 85th Legislature adjourned their regular session. While we wait to see if the governor will call them into special session, the immediate threat from the right-wing “Freedumb Caucus” has returned to the gerrymandered districts from whence it came. We know the attacks on reproductive health care and access to abortion in this state will continue, but so will our resistance.

The most obvious result of the regular legislative session is Texas will now have new laws that impact how doctors in Texas can care for their patients and access to abortion at 14 weeks and beyond will be severely restricted, if not totally inaccessible, without a legal challenge. Once again, the legislature has pushed through an unconstitutional, omnibus abortion bill, Senate Bill 8, which was amended on the House floor to contain multiple medically unnecessary regulations on the provision of abortion care. However, most striking was the brazenness in which the anti-abortion zealots discarded any pretense of caring about “women’s health” and the success they had due to fear or lack of courage by the Republican majority in both chambers of the legislature.  

This session, Pandering Dan Patrick not only was intent upon pushing private school vouchers and the highly discriminatory and hateful bathroom bill, but of his 30 legislative priorities, he included three anti-abortion measures. The Texas Senate managed to railroad them all through with little deliberation, but not without a strong fight from pro-choice activists, including shattered glass tables, banner drops and Handmaids infiltrating the gallery.  

What were once thought of as reasonable exceptions to the most stringent anti-abortion laws are now under direct attack. During the debate on SB 8, Rep. Matt Schaefer (R- The Worst Matt) filed an amendment to remove the already very narrow exception for abortion past 20 weeks in the case of fetal anomalies that are not compatible with life. If it had passed, his amendment would have forced a pregnant person to continue a pregnancy until a miscarriage, stillbirth, or life endangerment. The amendment was ultimately defeated, but more than 65 members of the Texas House supported it.  

Finally, the legislature maintained  funding for “Alternatives to Abortion” by allocating $9.15 million per year to this program, with the potential for the agency to increase that amount by another $10 million per year. The “Alternatives to Abortion” budget item funds the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which is an organization set up to funnel money to crisis pregnancy centers, which are organizations that purport to help pregnant people but in reality use any means they can to deny access to abortion, including lies and scare tactics.

The news was not all bad! There were a few silver linings as good bills passed and we will continue to work with our partners in the Trust. Respect. Access coalition to offer a better vision for reproductive health care policy in Texas.

Good Bills Passed:

SB 1599: Sen. Borris Miles/Rep. Shawn Thierry

This bill creates standards for more transparency around the reporting of information and investigation into maternal mortality cases. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it raises awareness of the increasing maternal mortality rate. Texas currently has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

SB 790: Sen. Borris Miles/Rep. Donna Howard

This bill continues the Women’s Health Advisory Committee, responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Healthy Texas Women program. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it promotes state health agency accountability and transparency.

HB 2466: Rep. Sarah Davis/Sen. Joan Huffman

This bill ensures that screening for maternal depression is covered under the child health plan, regardless of whether the mother is also an enrollee. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it gives attention to the mental health of the mother following childbirth and ensures she receives adequate care.

SB 77: Sen. Jane Nelson/Rep. Carol Alvarado

This bill authorizes a court to terminate a person’s parental rights based on a criminal conviction for sexual assault if the termination is in the best interests of the child. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it establishes rape as grounds to terminate parental rights. Companion: HB 1766, HB 1812

SB 257: Sen. Van Taylor/Rep. Tony Dale

This bill corrects an evidentiary imbalance between the standard for obtaining a civil protective order based on sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking and the standard for later modifying or terminating the order. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it eliminates loopholes in protective order proceedings. Companion: HB 472

HB 281: Rep. Donna Howard/Sen. Joan Huffman

This bill establishes a statewide electronic tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it increases transparency between law enforcement agencies and sexual assault victims.

HB 1729: Rep. Victoria Neave/Sen. Sylvia Garcia

This bill establishes a program to monitor and test evidence for rape kits. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas supports this bill because it provides more transparency to hold the state accountable in prosecuting cases of sexual assault.

Bad Bills Passed:

SB 8: Sen. Charles Schwertner

This bill will drastically affect the provision of abortion after 14 weeks of pregnancy. It targets abortion providers unfairly and is yet another unconstitutional bill restricting abortion access. The bill’s provisions include:

  • Copy of federal ban on intact dilation and extraction procedure
  • Prohibition on donation of embryonic or fetal tissue
  • Requirement that embryonic and fetal tissue be buried
  • Mandatory monthly electronic reporting by the physician
  • Legal definition of “abortion” changed
  • Criminalizes use of surgical instruments in the dilation and extraction procedure, the most common and safe method of pregnancy termination after 14 weeks

SB 4: Sen. Charles Perry

This bill prohibits sanctuary cities in Texas and requires compliance with federal immigration authorities and allows the attorney general to remove an elected official who refuses to comply. It also allows campus, local and state police officers to question a person’s citizenship during the most routine stops, for example a traffic stop, including questioning children. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas opposes this bill because it undermines public safety and forces undocumented Texans, their friends and families further into the shadows. This bill intimidates immigrant Texans from accessing basic services, including reproductive health care, and also undermines community policing by forcing local law enforcement agencies to act as federal immigration officers. We oppose any measure that tears apart families, which is exactly what SB 4 will do.

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