Lawmakers are using human trafficking to disguise anti-choice legislation

If there’s anything the anti-choice movement loves more than passing bills to keep people from making decisions about their own lives, it’s couching those bills within other issues to make them seem more palatable. In a move that is particularly callous, the anti-choice movement is using the terrible crime of human trafficking to manipulate the public in their never-ending quest to demonize and attack abortion providers.

Human trafficking – the recruitment, harboring, transporting, or procurement of a person for labor or services for the purpose of involuntary servitude, slavery or forced commercial sex acts – is the fastest growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world. Here in Texas, we’re outranked only by California in human trafficking survivors and Houston has the most human trafficking survivors among U.S. cities. It’s certainly a growing threat that should be addressed with pragmatic legislation, especially in our state, and that legislation should always aim to identify and assist survivors in the best way possible.

Health care providers are in a unique position to identify human trafficking survivors (one study shows that 28% of victims will seek health care while under the enslavement of their captors), particularly emergency rooms, community health providers, dentists and others. However, the two bills proposed this legislative session only require human trafficking training for one type of health care provider: abortion clinics.

We know what you’re thinking: why would someone use a  devastating issue like human trafficking to push an anti-choice agenda in a state that already has so few abortion providers? Who would use the tragedy of sex trafficking to achieve political gain?

SB 1873 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) and its companion bill HB 416 by Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) represent not only another legislative attempt to over-regulate abortion clinics, but also a dire lack of understanding about the populations of human trafficking victims that live in Texas. Both bills apply only to abortion clinics of which, because of targeted efforts from previous legislative sessions seeking to restrict access to abortion, there are very few left.

If Campbell and Riddle really cared about identifying victims of human trafficking, they wouldn’t use the issue as a vehicle to pass more laws that would be yet another regulation on abortion care.  Their assumption that the few abortion providers left should carry the sole responsibility of identifying human trafficking victims is irresponsible, ignoring the true nature of the crime and experts’ research. Both lawmakers should instead be modeling legislation after the recommendations of The Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, which makes recommendations on what the Legislature should do to combat human trafficking. During the 2013 Legislative Session, Rep. Senfronia Thompson passed HB 1272 to not only continue the task force but also to develop curriculum and tools for all medical providers.

The good news is abortion providers already provide comprehensive training on human trafficking, domestic violence and coercion to their staff and clinic workers are devoted to assisting their patients in violent situations. The patients’ personal safety is of the utmost concern, and they’ve been doing one-on-one counseling sessions with their patients for years – they didn’t need the state of Texas to mandate it. But if the Legislature is going to require this training, they should do so in a comprehensive way that is most likely to help the maximum amount of survivors.

SB 1873 and HB 416 should be amended to reflect the true nature of human trafficking and not exclude all health care at facilities survivors might encounter. Not expanding these bills to include all medical providers represents a serious missed opportunity for intervention. If Campbell and Riddle really want to claim that they intend to counteract human trafficking in an effectual and research-based manner and not just make it harder for abortion providers to operate, they should accept an amendment.

 

This week: two anti-choice bills hit the floor

Update 5/5/2015, 12:30 PM: SB 575 has passed out of the Senate. 
Update 5/6/2015, 3:00 PM: SB 575 has third reading, amendment requiring exception for rape or incest is tabled.
Update 5/6/2015, 3:18 PM: HB 416 has passed out of the House.
We’re officially less than a month away from the end of the regular session of the Texas Legislature, which means more anti-choice chatter in the House and Senate from our infamously out-of-touch lawmakers. Here are two bills we’re tracking as they hit the House and Senate floor:
  • SB 575Relating to health plan and health benefit plan coverage for abortion. This bill prohibits plans offered through health benefit exchanges to cover abortion, with a narrow exception for the mother’s life only. The bill also requires health benefit plans not offered through an exchange to only offer abortion coverage if it is separate from all other coverage, and offered for an additional fee. This bill passed out of the Senate on Wednesday. 
  • HB 416Relating to requiring personnel of abortion facilities and certain other facilities performing abortions to complete training on human trafficking. This bill would require abortion providers and all staff that come in contact with patients to complete a mandatory human trafficking training. First, abortion providers already provide this training to staff. This training should be required of other health providers who are far more likely to encounter trafficking survivors. Here’s more on the true intentions of this bill. This bill passed out of the House on Wednesday. 

As always, we can’t guarantee a definite time in which these bills will be discussed, but we can let you know as soon as they come up. Stay updated by signing up to be on our Legislative Action Team, watch our Twitter feed (follow #TrustTX or the bill number’s hashtag), our Facebook page and this post for updates on when these hearings will happen.

About John Seago’s testimony on a DPS officer saving human trafficking victims ‘forced into abortion’

John Seago from Texas Right to Life testified on Wednesday that he “knows” of a DPS officer who personally rescued human trafficking victims who had also been coerced into abortion. He’s talking about Captain Jeoff Williams, who Rep. Molly White quotes in a press release someone who has  “personally rescued victims of human trafficking who had been coerced into abortions in order to keep them working as sex slaves.”  The press release calls him, “Jeff” Williams and we had a little trouble finding this “Jeff Williams.”  Turns out his name is Jeoff Williams.  He is a Captain in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Department of Public Safety where he works on sex trafficking cases.  Here’s what he really said:

“One victim was forced to have an abortion in order to continue working as a sex slave.  And another was forced to undergo breast augmentation in increase her value for exploitation.  She now has some very serious medical problems associated with that.”

Joint Committee on Human Trafficking, Sept. 25, 2014, Testimony of Jeoff Williams, http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=8689 at 1:01:01.  He did not testify he had rescued multiple victims who were forced to abort, as White alleges.  He discussed one, and more pointedly described a woman who had been forced to augment her breasts resulting in “serious medical problems.”  Funny, White’s bill wouldn’t require plastic surgeons to post notices about “coercion.” Nor would it create a criminal offense for coercing women to alter their bodies permanently or send parents who pressure their daughters to have plastic surgery to Child Protective Services, as HB 1648 would for abortion.

 

This week: three anti-choice bills and one pro-choice bill in House State Affairs

Update, April 29, 3:00 PM: House State Affairs has begun hearings. We’ll let you know when any of the below bills come up, and you can live stream here.

Update, April 28, 3:45 PM: HB 1942 has been pulled from the hearing schedule. 

Another week in the legislature means another week of hearings that we need you to be present for! All bills will be heard at the House State Affairs Committee in the John. H. Reagan Building (15th and Congress), Room 140 on Wednesday.

To start off, here are the anti-choice bills that need your opposition:

  • HB 1942 Relating to judicial authority to issue orders allowing minors to consent to abortions and disclosure of that authority. This bill would “out” judges who grant judicial bypass, a form of intimidation meant to keep judges from granting them!
  • HB 1648 Relating to voluntary and informed consent to an abortion and prevention of coerced abortions; providing penalties; creating an offense. Rep. Molly White’s bill with a number of bad provisions, including a 72 hour waiting period for abortion if you are a victim of violence or trafficking!
  • HB 832 Relating to reporting requirements for a physician performing an abortion at an abortion facility. Rep. Matt Schaefer’s bill – which you may remember from his HHS sunset bill amendments – that targets physicians who perform abortions for unreasonable, onerous and unnecessary reporting requirements.

There’s also one pro-choice bill that needs your support: 

  • HB 2643 Relating to parental leave for certain state employees. This bill provides a modest 20 days paid parental leave for state employees after all sick and vacation time is exhausted. While we’d love it to go further, it’s a great start for the state of Texas to support families, especially after decimating the reproductive health care system!

Want to show your position on the legislation but don’t have time to stay for the hearing? You can swing by the Capitol, register and leave anytime after 10:30 a.m. Read more here about how to register from a mobile device or at one of the many iPad kiosks spread throughout the building.

As always, the House State Affairs committee will not convene until the House itself has adjourned for the day, meaning that these bills could get hearings in the early afternoon or they could be pushed into the evening. Watch our Twitter (follow #TrustTX or the bill number’s hashtag), Facebook and this post for updates on when these hearings will happen.

Rest up, wear orange and don’t forget your phone charger! 

 

Whole Woman’s Health Corporate VP: abortion clinics don’t need more regulations

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HB 3765 is unnecessary and unfairly targets regulation against abortion providers.

In recent years the Legislature has enacted extreme restrictions targeting abortion providers, including the partial birth abortion ban in 2003 which eliminated one of Roe v. Wade’s core protections. Also in 2003, the Women’s Right to Know Act started forcing physicians to provide biased and inaccurate information regarding the abortion procedure. In 2011, The Legislature added  a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, yet another unnecessary barrier for women accessing abortion care. In 2013, the dangerous and detrimental provisions in HB 2 created substantial obstacles to safe and legal abortion care and have disproportionately impacted those Texans living in poverty and in rural and underserved areas, especially young women.

Now, HB 3765 from Rep. Jodie Laubenberg attempts to amend the Texas Medical Board’s existing regulations for parental consent for anyone seeking an abortion under the age of 18. Although these current regulations are effective and there have been no demonstrated problems, this bill exclusively targets against abortion providers.

Abortion clinics have strong safeguards in place to screen patients for family violence, human trafficking and coercion. In addition to obtaining standard medical consent, clinics engage patients of all ages in one-on-one private counseling, and comply with Chapter 171 in the Texas Health & Safety Code, which this bill would unnecessarily amend. Coercion is neither practically nor physically possible with the procedures clinics voluntarily put in place.

Abortion providers offer a safe environment free of judgment where patients are offered a private and neutral ground regardless of their age, and are in complete control of their decision to terminate or continue a pregnancy. During these private sessions, each patient meets with a patient advocate to engage in a conversation triggered by open ended questions that allow her to tell her own story without pressure or fear of consequences. If at any point during this conversation a woman claims she does not want to have an abortion, this patient will not have one. Regardless of what consent forms have been signed or notarized, her word is what truly matters.

The amendment introduced in this bill shows the legislators’ severe lack of understanding of current regulations regarding parental consent. The document titled Disclosure and consent form: Medical, Surgical, and Diagnostic Procedures Figure: 22 TAC §165.6(f) requires the initials and signatures of the patient, the physician and the parent or legal guardian. The parent’s signature is required to be notarized. Therefore, requiring the added notarization of the underage patient is not only redundant but violates her confidentiality.

No other medical providers are included in this bill. If there is a problem with minors being forced to undergo medical procedures, the state should require family medicine physicians, plastic surgeons, all ambulatory surgical centers and other medical providers to comply with the same consent regulations as abortion clinics.

All Texans deserve access to the health care they need and should not be forced to jump through numerous hoops and mountains of paperwork every time they need to access a legal, medical procedure. Quality abortion providers seek to provide the highest quality of care for their patients and would not force an abortion upon someone against their will. HB 3765 is further harassment of abortion providers.