Greg Abbott’s staff meets with extremist anti-choice group linked to violence and terrorism

On the same day that Governor Greg Abbott issued the call for a Constitutional Convention, his staff took a meeting with another group whose sole mission is to combat the “tyranny” of the federal government.

Operation Save America, an outgrowth of Operation Rescue, was meeting with Abbott’s staff to promote their Rally the Lesser Magistrate Campaign. Like Governor Abbott, the supporters of the campaign (or “saints,” as they call themselves) believe that the federal government has gone too far and must be challenged. At issue for Abbott and the “saints” are the recognition of gay marriage as the law of the land, and the constitutionally protected right to abortion services.

While much of the Lesser Magistrate Campaign’s recent work has been spent encouraging states to pass laws and resolutions calling the recent Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage null and void, Operation Save America and Operation Rescue are almost exclusively focused on anti-abortion actions in every other program under their control.

Throughout it’s troubling history, Operation Rescue has been associated with violent attacks on abortion clinics and abortion providers, as well as those who seek out abortion services.

Founder and former President Randall Terry was quoted calling the 2009 murder of Dr. Tiller, an abortion provider who had been shot previously in 1993 before his murder at his church, “vengeance” for his work. The anti-choice activist who murdered Tiller was active on Operation Rescue’s message boards, where he received support for his violently anti-abortion beliefs.

In 1988, Operation Rescue’s Senior Political Advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, attempted to bomb an abortion clinic in San Diego.

It should not come as a surprise that Greg Abbott or his staff would meet with such these extremists. And he isn’t the only prominent Texas politician to rub elbows with the violent, anti-abortion group.
Days before the 2015 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced that he had been endorsed by Operation Rescue’s president, Troy Newman.

Newman, known for his 2003 book Their Blood Cries Out, in which he calls for the execution of those who perform abortions, is not only the President of Operation Rescue. He was also one of the founders of the Center for Medical Progress – best known for the highly edited and misleading videos that have led to a veritable witch hunt against Planned Parenthood and abortion providers across the country.

While other developed nations are banning Newman and his organization’s harmful and violent anti-choice rhetoric, Greg Abbott’s staff is taking meetings with their political operatives and entertaining discussions on when it is appropriate to overthrow a federal government.

What’s more, even as Abbott and Cruz encourage this violent and extremist rhetoric by association, they continue to distance themselves from any responsibility for its inevitable outcomes.

When the Colorado Springs shooter said he didn’t want any more “baby parts,” Operation Rescue and Ted Cruz denounced the violence as inexcusable, despite the roles they play in stoking the fire of anti-choice terrorism around the country.

Greg Abbott is tasked with working for the best outcomes for all Texans, not just those who agree with him and his Tea Party platforms. By taking meetings with groups like Operation Rescue, he and his staff give a legitimate platform for domestic terror and anti-choice violence – and that is completely unacceptable.

San Antonio City Council passes an anti-choice TRAP law

This has been crossposted from an article on Burnt Orange Report written by our Development Coordinator, Genevieve Cato. 

Last week, the San Antonio City Council approved an amendment targeted at facilities providing abortions, the San Antonio Express News reported. The amendment, supported by anti-choice activists and brought by Councilman Mike Gallagher, uses zoning restrictions to place yet another burden on facilities providing abortions in the city.

Gallagher, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and Councilmembers Alan Warrick, Rebecca Viagran, Ray Lopez, Cris Medina and Joe Krier supported the amendment, leading to its passage. Councilmembers Roberto Treviño, Rey Saldaña, Shirley Gonzales and Ron Nirenberg opposed the measure.

Specifically, the amendment created restrictions on where ambulatory surgical centers, or ASC’s, can be built. Under House Bill 2, the omnibus abortion bill passed in 2013, all facilities that provide abortion services must meet the standards of an ASC in order to remain in operation once the bill is fully implemented. By restricting zoning laws regarding ASC’s, the Council effectively targeted any future abortion providers in the city.

San Antonio’s Unified Development Code, which governs zoning – what kinds of businesses can be built in which areas – does not explicitly mention ASC’s, the San Antonio Express News reported. Under current zoning rules, facilities providing abortions have been built in areas classified for differing levels of commercial use: C-1, C-2, and C-3. The new amendment would prohibit an ASC from being built in a C-1 area without permission from the Zoning Committee and the City Council, both of which will then have to vote on each individual case.

Supporters of the amendment were transparent in their motivations for the move, according to the Express News’ coverage. A new Planned Parenthood facility was recently built in an area zoned as C-1 on Babcock Road, near a residential area. For some proponents of the new zoning rule, the City Council’s amendment was not worded clearly enough. They would have preferred the rules to explicitly mention “abortion facilities” instead of ASCs more broadly.

There are three clinics in San Antonio that currently offer abortion services. Of these three, only the Planned Parenthood facility on Babcock Road was built in a C-1 area. The other two clinics, Alamo Women’s Clinic and Whole Woman’s Health, occupy space in areas designated C-2 and C-3, respectively.

While the amendment was targeted at the Planned Parenthood clinic, it is not retroactive and will not impact that clinic’s ability to provide abortion services to the community.

This move by the San Antonio City Council matters both because it is a local initiative to increase targeted restrictions against abortion providers (commonly referred to as “TRAP laws”) and also because of San Antonio’s strategic importance in maintaining access to abortion for those whose local clinics have closed in the aftermath of House Bill 2. For many living along the border, the clinics in San Antonio are their closest options.

Should the law be fully implemented as passed (which rests with the Supreme Court as it prepares to consider the case challenging certain provisions in the law this spring), the number of clinics providing abortion services could drop below ten in the entire state. In order to increase access, any new clinics would have to built as ASC’s. The Councilmembers who voted for this amendment, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, have set a precedent with potentially disastrous impact on the future of abortion access in Texas.

Though San Antonio, and those communities along the border that rely on its clinics, may have three facilities that will survive the implementation of the bill, the passage of similar laws in other municipalities without such facilities could severely restrict the capacity of providers to expand back into areas that have little to no access today.

House Bill 2 is officially heading to the Supreme Court. What’s next?

The Supreme Court of the United States officially signaled Friday that they would hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the case against Texas’ most damaging anti-choice law, House Bill 2. It’s been 20 years since the Court has heard a case concerning access to abortion, the last time being Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey set the legal standard of an “undue burden” –meaning that those who take anti-choice laws to court have to prove that the law creates a “substantial obstacle” to abortion access. In Texas, House Bill 2 has closed swaths of clinics, especially those in West Texas. The Rio Grande Valley in particular would have no abortion provider had the Supreme Court not placed a stay on the law – otherwise, patients would have to make the 200+ mile drive to San Antonio to get the care that they need.

The other component of the case, according to SCOTUSblog, is “whether the Fifth Circuit erred in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health – or any other valid interest.”

The timeline of abortion access in Texas since 2013.

The timeline of abortion access in Texas since 2013.

Since Senator Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster of House Bill 2 in 2013, Texas abortion providers have opened and closed their doors as the law has bounced around the court system, having successful rulings by a federal judge in Austin only to be struck down by the more-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now that the court has taken up Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the nine justices will hear the case sometime during Spring 2016. Like many of the current Court’s rulings on contentious issues, they will likely be split in their ruling, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving as the swing vote. Similar to their order to put a stay on House Bill 2, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito and Justice Thomas will likely dissent, while Justice Ginsberg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan will probably vote to strike down House Bill 2. Justice Kennedy will likely hold a lot of power, and Texans’ access to abortion care, in his hands.

Rethinking violence: HERO and Reproductive Justice

If you’ve ever met a Houstonian, you know we are proud about a lot of things. Houston is the most ethnically and racially diverse city in the nation and unfortunately, we are also the only major city in the nation without a non-discrimination ordinance. After the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) passed in 2014, the Texas Legislature responded with over 20 anti-LGBT bills in the 84th legislature. Anti-LGBT politicians launched an attack to repeal HERO and were successful in putting it up for a vote during an election period with traditionally very low voter turnout.

The civil rights are even up for a vote is terrifying. The people who are restricting access to abortion are the same ones attacking undocumented immigrants and now leading the fight against Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. As of today, Friday, experts are saying that the vote is “too close to call” before Election Day. 

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance would protect people on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, veteran status, age, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation and religion. But right wing politicians and their friends have made it about demonizing the LGBT community.

As a queer woman, born and raised in Houston, I am disgusted at local and state leaders like Dan Patrick who are targeting the LGBT community, and specifically transgender women, and claiming this is about protecting individuals who use public restrooms.

Portraying HERO as the “bathroom ordinance” disregards the fact that over half of the reports filed when HERO was in effect were racial discrimination cases. Almost 20 percent were for pregnancy discrimination. And in zero cases—not in Houston, not in any other city with an anti-discrimination policies, ever—were equal rights ordinances used as a legal defense against assault, despite the prevailing anti-HERO narrative.

The idea that trans women are harassing cisgendered women and children in public restrooms has been a favorite narrative for right wing politicians. This narrative is not only disgusting and false, it is extremely dangerous. We know that hateful rhetoric about certain communities makes people act on these hateful thoughts. When the leaders of our state are perpetuating untrue, hateful narratives about trans women, that is an act of violence. In fact, trans women are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and harassment than any other group, and they’re also the group most likely to be denied victim support services.

One in four college students will be sexually assaulted and many victims aren’t able to report their abuse because of statute of limitations, but there is no outcry from our state leaders about this. Once again, this is not at all about protecting women and all about passing their backwards agenda at the expense of the most marginalized in Texas.

I constantly get asked that as an abortion rights activist, why do I care about and advocate for other issues, like HERO? The reality is that we don’t live single issue lives—these issues intersect. Many pro-choice activists do this work through a reproductive justice lens and reproductive justice can’t and won’t be be achieved until we are able to have full control of our bodies and sexualities. When transgender women don’t even live long enough to plan their own families, that is a reproductive justice issue. When a same sex couple and their children can be denied housing because of their sexual orientation, that is a reproductive justice issue. When an immigrant mother can be denied support services to leave her abuser, that is a reproductive justice issue. These are the issues that are at stake this upcoming election and this is why we need to care.

Tell state officials to stop the Planned Parenthood witch hunt

Extremist Texas leaders continue to use the heavily edited, widely discredited videos created by militant anti-abortion activists as an excuse to attack Texans’ access to reproductive health care. Now our extremist state officials are trying to cut Planned Parenthood clinics from Medicaid and block thousands of Texans from accessing affordable health care.

And they didn’t stop there. In a thinly-veiled media stunt, state officials delivered subpoenas to Texas Planned Parenthood clinics asking for everything from patient records to employees’ home addresses.


State officials walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Antonio (via Austin American-Statesman).

The political theater is insufferable and is a gross misuse of taxpayer money and state resources.

Will you join us in telling the Inspector General to call off the witch hunt and start putting people before politics?