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Shockingly, the Legislature invited actual scientists and doctors to a hearing about fetal tissue

You’re not going to believe what happened at the Texas State Capitol this week. The House State Affairs Committee held a hearing on fetal tissue research and invited actual doctors and researchers from public universities to testify – people who actually carry out the research that leads to things like polio vaccines and better health outcomes for premature infants and children with congenital health conditions. The Texas Senate held a similar hearing last summer and invited a parade of anti-abortion extremists to testify. Rather than a serious inquiry, that hearing was nothing more than a chance for politicians like Ken Paxton, accused felon, to espouse their anti-choice views.

Of course, anti-abortion proponents still got their moment in the sun and kicked off this week’s hearing with ridiculous lies about fetal tissue collection and abortion clinics, including a whopper about tissue being stored in the refrigerator next to Chinese food leftovers (an accusation Department of State Health services staff later refuted).

It’s the same rhetoric that created a space for these hearings in the first place. This hearing comes after the Center for Medical Progress created a fake biomedicine charity and broke the law to get videos that they heavily edited and used to disparage Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. In January, a Harris County grand jury investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast—an action Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pushed—concluded their investigations clearing the health care provider of any wrongdoing and instead indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the activists behind the smear campaign.  So basically, anti-abortion activists tried to make Planned Parenthood look bad, broke the law to do it and got caught. But the indictments haven’t stopped anti-abortion groups and politicians from continuing to use the videos to spread malicious lies about abortion providers, pushing for unnecessary and harmful legislation in their witch hunts.

After the two anti-abortion extremists set the stage with outrageous claims like “some would question whether or not an abortive mother has the capacity to consent,” it was time for some facts to enter the conversation from people who are actual doctors and scientists that base their beliefs in reality. First up: Dr. Raymond Greenberg, Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at the University of Texas. Dr. Greenberg testified that fetal tissue is used in research to better understand how to care for infants facing serious health issues, including infants who are born prematurely and infants who have congenital heart problems. In other words, fetal tissue research leads to advancements in medicine that improve babies’ health and in some cases, is the only viable approach in research to treat sick babies – meaning actual born children benefit from this research.

Dr. Greenberg also refuted the misconception that abortion clinics profit off fetal tissue research. The sale of tissue is illegal, but clinics receive reimbursements for costs associated with transport and storage. Dr. Greenberg testified that he’d seen reimbursement amounts never more than a couple hundred dollars, a relatively low amount compared to other medical costs, and it’s important to note that Texas abortion clinics are not even participating in fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood has said it has not done this since 2010. The issue of profit motive is a nonstarter (although it’s a talking point that the anti-choice movement loves to peddle over and over and over again).

Next up, representatives from the Department of State Health Services: Commissioner John Hellerstedt and Kathy Perkins, assistant commissioner for regulatory services. Perkins testified about the random inspections at abortion clinics and that issues found in abortion clinics do not stand out among state inspections of other health care facilities, directly contradicting some of the anti-abortion extremists’ wild accusations. She assured the panel that they had found no incidents of Chinese food leftovers sitting alongside fetal tissue in refrigerators and, in fact, there was only one administrative violation at an abortion clinic in 2015.

While it’s frustrating that lies about abortion and fetal tissue donation are still getting airtime, it was refreshing to see a hearing primarily comprised of experts and doctors. Chairman Byron Cook’s closing suggestion that the committee look into outlawing using fetal tissue from elective abortions for research gives a glimpse at what we can expect to see at the Texas Legislature next session. The suggestion is troubling, but NARAL Pro-Choice Texas will be there to fight back against any attacks on abortion care and we hope you’ll be there with us.

Want to help us hold Texas lawmakers accountable and make reproductive health care more accessible? Join our Legislative Action Team!

trapped texas screenings

Want to see TRAPPED? Here are all of the screening dates and locations in Texas.

Consistently rated as one of the best documentaries to come out this year, Trapped  sets aside abortion stigma and shows viewers how abortion providers truly are: brave, compassionate medical professionals who bring abortion care to communities that need it most, often in the face of state legislatures and lawmakers that want to see them shut down.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY9b2Lcmh5k

Trapped has started screening across Texas this month. Here are all of the dates and locations where you can go see it:

San Antonio
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
Wednesday, March 30 at 6:30 PM
Organized by NOW (National Organization for Women) and Medical Students for Choice
Tickets and RSVP

Houston
Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center
Tuesday, April 5 at 6:00 PM
Organized by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and UH WGRC
A panel after the film will include Ana Rodriguez from The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, reproductive justice activist Eesha Pandit, and Director of Marketing and PR for Whole Woman’s Health Fatimah Gifford.
Tickets and RSVP

Austin
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar
Tuesday, April 12 at 6:00 PM
Organized by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and The Lilith Fund
A panel after the film will include Marva Sadler of Whole Woman’s Health (also featured in the film), Ana Rodriguez of Lilith Fund, and a representative of Bridge Collective.
Tickets and RSVP

El Paso
UTEP Union Cinema
Saturday, April 23 at 6:30 PM
Organized by West Fund and URGE
The screening will feature a panel afterwards of activists and clinic staff who will discuss the film and the impact of TRAP laws, including HB2, on the people of Texas.
Tickets and RSVP

McAllen
Cine El Ray
Thursday, April 28 at 6 PM
Organized by Feministxs Unidxs, The Progressive Young Democrats at UTRGV, UTRGV’s Texas Freedom Network, and UTRGV’s URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
Tickets and RSVP

Austin
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar
Tuesday, May 3 at 7:00 PM
Organized by The Lilith Fund and Fund Texas Choice
A panel discussion will happen before the film screens.
Tickets and RSVP

More dates will be added in the coming weeks! Did we miss a screening date? Send us an email at info@prochoicetexas.org.

MelissaAronja

To most people, the RG​V is a symbol of the tragedy of this law. To me, it’s home.

This is a guest post from Melissa Aronja.  

The day Whole Woman’s Health closed in McAllen, Texas was a sobering experience.

It was March 2014, and no one at the time knew if the Rio Grande Valley would ever have an abortion clinic again. At the closing vigil held outside the clinic, each person in attendance read some of the personal experiences of Whole Woman’s Health patients. They were stories written by immigrants, students, people going through divorce and people who had experienced sexual assault. Local anti-choicers were gathered across the street and cheered in celebration.

The months that followed — the months in which some of the poorest counties in the United States were left without abortion access — were surreal and directly affected people I know.

I was in Austin in 2013 when the Texas Legislature voted to move forward with HB 2, and I’ve seen the effects of the terrible legislation first-hand. Being in D.C. during the oral arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is important to me. The constant attacks on Whole Woman’s Health are personal. The loss of abortion access during those awful six months in 2014 is personal. Will you chip in and help me carry my voice all the way to the Supreme Court?MelissaAronja

Six months after it initially closed, Whole Woman’s Health was allowed to reopen. On that day, I awoke to texts from friends who were helping the clinic finish setting up. Anti-choice protesters were not happy about the clinic’s reopening; volunteers were needed immediately to help get patients safely inside the building, so I rushed to the clinic. Over the next couple of weeks, our little group hit the ground running, figuring out the logistics of clinic escorting amidst a crowd of very aggressive protestors from the local crisis pregnancy center. Not only were they upset that Whole Woman’s Health had reopened, they were positively furious that clinic escorts were now present on “their” turf.

Then, the clinic was temporarily forced to close again. That weekend, I organized a last-minute demonstration outside our closed clinic. We’d had enough. Only about twelve people showed up, but pictures from that demonstration have since made their way into publications all around the world. South Texans for Reproductive Justice was born.

Looking back on our first demonstration as South Texans for Reproductive Justice, I’m incredibly proud of how far our grassroots movement has come in the wake of HB 2. At the end of January 2016, the annual Roe v. Wade anti-choice parade made its way to Whole Woman’s Health. Hundreds of anti-choicers were met by hundreds of pro-choice supporters. We had enough people to line both sides of the street, preventing the parade from surrounding the clinic during operating hours as they had done in the past.

Before HB 2, the Rio Grande Valley didn’t even register on most people’s radars. Now, it’s part of one of the biggest abortion rights cases in history. To most people, the RG​V is a symbol of the tragedy of this law. To me, it’s home. This court case has the power to permanently impact my friends and family, and I can’t let this happen without a fight. Can you pitch in to help me take my fight against HB 2 to Washington, D.C.?

Mary Drummer

I want to go to D.C. as SCOTUS decides the fate of Texas abortion clinics, but I need your help.

This is a guest post from Mary Drummer.

I remember staying up ’til the early hours of the morning riveted to my computer screen and Twitter, catching the live Tweets and streams from activists who were in the Texas Capitol during Wendy Davis’ filibuster. The feeling was so electric and live that I wished I had scrounged up the cash and traveled to Texas to be there. Unfortunately, at the same time, my home state of Ohio was also doing their best to pass draconian anti-abortion laws, but due to our state Senate rules, there would be no history making filibuster like there was in Texas.

A few months later when Wendy Davis officially announced her intention to run for Governor, I just KNEW I had to work on her campaign. I had previously done organizing work in my home state of Ohio around reproductive rights and other progressive issues and was just finishing up a healthcare campaign with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When I saw that Battleground Texas was hiring, I applied, was hired, and moved across the country to Texas in 10 days. Working on that campaign and seeing so many Texans inspired and engaged in politics (many for the first time in their lives) was life-changing.Mary Drummer

I’m not done fighting back. Having lived in Houston, Austin, Dallas and traveled to the Rio Grande Valley, I’ve seen first hand the harm that’s being done to individuals because of HB2. Can you pitch in to help me get to D.C. so my voice can be heard at our nation’s capital?

After the campaign ended, I didn’t want to leave Texas, so I moved to Austin where I joined the Next Generation program with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, participated in direct actions at the state Capitol against more abortion restrictions, and attended community group discussions held by Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman, a radical reproductive justice group that centers Women of Color. I am now living in Dallas, where I recently joined the board of the TEAfund, an abortion fund that serves individuals in North Texas, and I have also joined the advisory council of Reproaction–a national abortion rights organization that aims to change the messaging around abortion to one that’s more positive and affirming.

If HB 2 were to fully go into effect, it would leave only 10 abortion clinics open in a state that’s larger than the country of France. There would be no providers in all of Western Texas or in the Rio Grande Valley.

We’re fighting back. Just like Roe v. Wade, which also originated in Texas, Whole Woman’s v. Hellerstedt will be a watershed moment in abortion rights history and it’s only right that we have Texans who have been working and organizing in this movement in D.C. when the arguments are heard. Can you help me get to Washington, D.C. for the oral arguments at the Supreme Court?

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The Texas Legislature has scheduled another meeting about fetal tissue

On Wednesday, the House State Affairs Committee scheduled a public hearing for April 28, and the top of the agenda includes the discussion of fetal tissue and its research:

“Study the policies used by research and medical entities to adhere to the highest ethical standards for acquiring human fetal tissue for medical and scientific purposes. Specifically, review compliance to ensure informed consent and that all state and federal laws sufficiently respect the dignity of the human body. Study criteria for which persons have standing when giving consent for the use of fetal remains and to investigate potential violations of state laws regulating organ/tissue donation. Determine whether additional disclosure and reporting requirements are necessary to ensure moral and ethical research practices. Review practices and statutes in other states regarding fetal tissue harvesting.”

As you may have guessed, discussions in this meeting will likely include abortion providers and the anti-choice sting operation that has targeted Planned Parenthood officials across the country. Leaders of this operation were indicted by a Houston grand jury last month after a Harris County District Attorney concluded an investigation into the abortion provider. Although David Daleiden – leader of the Center for Medical Progress and their so-called “Human Capital Project” – has promised to continue his crusade, it’s hard to imagine how he’ll manage to do that now that his project has landed him in multiple levels of hot water.

Never ones to be dissuaded by facts or laws that don’t work in their favor, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have vowed to continue their three investigations into Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates on the allegations that they’ve been selling fetal tissue for profit, even though twelve other states that performed the same investigations have come up empty-handed.

As the Legislature continues to use Planned Parenthood for political posturing, it’s clear that they don’t care about the facts.  They are doubling down on harmful rhetoric to rile up their powerful anti-choice base in Texas – a base that will do everything they can to stigmatize abortion and reduce access to services. If the last meeting that lawmakers called regarding Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue tells us anything, it’s that this will be another anti-choice workshop on how to make abortion all but illegal in our state.

HHSC-Suits

In October last year, state officials delivered subpoenas to Texas Planned Parenthood clinics asking for everything from patient records to employees’ home addresses.

So here we go again, y’all. We’re currently not in a legislative session, but we encourage you to join us at the Capitol on April 28 to support Planned Parenthood as our own lawmakers continue to vilify them at every chance they get.