STATEMENT: Gov. Abbott Announces More Devastating Attacks on Abortion Access for Special Session

For Release: 6-6-2017

Contact: Sharmeen Aly, [email protected]

Austin, TX — Today, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special session to begin July 18 and laid out several pieces of anti-abortion legislation as his priorities, including a ban on private insurance coverage for abortion, burdensome reporting requirements for abortion providers and further regulations on how governments can contract with organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Gov. Abbott also signed into law SB 8, a cruel and shameful anti-abortion bill that severely restricts access to health care and effectively bans second trimester abortions.

Heather Busby, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement upon the announcement —

“It is disgusting and shameful that Gov. Abbott is wasting taxpayer dollars to force through even more regulations on our reproductive freedoms, especially after signing such a harmful bill in SB 8. And it is even more despicable that he is using the special session to systematically deny our human rights and civil liberties, wrenching away local control, attacking transgender people, forcing through school vouchers, and taking away our ability to unionize.

Restricting access to vital health care and targeting medical providers is cruel, hateful and dangerous. Gov. Abbott’s priorities for the special session jeopardize Texans’ health and safety and disproportionately impact low-income Texans, people of color and their families, and young people.

There is nothing ‘pro-life’ about denying health care to those who need it. Our reproductive rights are not political bargaining chips to be traded away.”

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.

Lawmakers Must Prioritize Proactive Bills That Expand and Protect Reproductive Health Care

For weeks, Texas lawmakers have debated measures designed explicitly to reduce access to abortion and stigmatize Texans seeking vital health care. Misinformation and ideological rhetoric abound, and politicians continue to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. These bills are harmful, endanger the lives of Texans and blatantly disrespect physicians and patient privacy.

While bills like this are flying through the Legislature, others that actually protect and promote access to health care are languishing. As we approach a key deadline for House bills to be voted out of committee, we call on lawmakers to hold hearings on the following good bills:

  • House Bill 262 by Rep. Donna Howard respects a physician’s medical training and allows them to exercise their best medical judgement when providing abortion care to their patients. This bill ensures doctors can practice medicine without political interference by protecting them should they opt out of giving their patients state-mandated misinformation.
  • House Bill 745 by Rep. Jessica Farrar repeals Texas’ 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. This bill strikes a medically unnecessary restriction from state law and restores dignity to Texans seeking abortion care.
  • House Bill 746, also by Rep. Jessica Farrar, strikes from state law a pervasive lie peddled by the anti-abortion movement—that abortion leads to an increased risk of breast cancer. For more than a decade, Texas law has required physicians to share with their patients this baseless claim. By removing this language from statute, HB 746 ensures that patients have the accurate medical information they deserve.

In addition to holding hearings on these bills, legislators should also vote on Rep. Mary Gonzalez’s House Bill 330, which expands access to birth control for parenting minors by allowing them to consent to their own health care, and Rep. Jessica Farrar’s House Bill 747, which makes accurate information about emergency contraception available to sexual assault survivors.

These bills deserve attention and a vote. We call on lawmakers to prioritize HBs 262, 330, 745, 746 and 747 and abandon the misguided, medically inaccurate and stigmatizing legislation they have taken up so far this session. Click here to send an email directly to the chairman of the committee responsible for taking up these bills.

Statement: Texas Senate Passes SB 20, A Ban on Private Insurance Coverage for Abortion

For Release: 3-22-2017

Contact: Sharmeen Aly, [email protected]

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Today, the Texas Senate passed on second reading Senate Bill 20, which would ban private insurance plans from covering abortion care. The bill also does not make exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies. Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement:

“Access to health care, including abortion, should not be limited by one’s income. In restricting insurance coverage for abortion, Senate Bill 20 jeopardizes Texans’ health and disproportionately impacts low-income Texans, people of color and their families, and young people.

SB 20 jeopardizes the ability of private citizens to use their own money to buy health insurance that includes abortion coverage, making it so that Texans must purchase supplemental coverage instead. No one knows in advance what surgeries or medication they may need in the future, so why do we expect Texans to know if they will need an abortion?

Having insurance coverage for abortion is important to ensure that every Texan can access the care they need in a timely manner. It is wrong for the government to place restrictions on private health insurance companies looking to offer a full range of reproductive health services, including abortion.”

Dr. Corinne McLeod: Texas Pamphlet Violates Core Ethical Principle of Modern Medicine

This past summer, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced that they would be accepting comments from the public on their controversial “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet. Texas law mandates that all doctors in the state who perform abortions must give this pamphlet to their patients in conjunction with a mandatory information session before their procedures. Being a doctor who plans on providing abortion care in Texas, I took it upon myself to painstakingly edit this document so I could provide the state with the most accurate medical information possible. After all, surely the goal is to provide people with the essential knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their bodies and about their health.

However, I quickly realized this document is so hopelessly biased as to be functionally useless; my annotations were an exercise in futility. “A Woman’s Right to Know” discusses supposed medical risks from abortion that have been discredited for decades as if there were legitimate scientific debate surrounding them. The fact is that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer or infertility. There is no “post-abortion syndrome,” or any major psychiatric disorder associated with abortion. But by forcing physicians to hand out this pamphlet to patients, it lends credence to these myths. It forces us to discuss these risks as if they are real, therefore making doctors complicit in the scare tactics of the “pro-life” movement. Furthermore, the state drastically downplays the very real risks surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. People are actually 10 to 12 times more likely to die from complications related to childbirth than from an abortion. There is, of course, no mention of this amongst the glossy pictures of delighted-looking pregnant women scattered throughout the pamphlet. In fact, a Rutgers University study found that 30 percent of Texas’ pamphlet is medically inaccurate.

One of the core ethical tenants of modern medicine revolves around informed consent, the concept of giving patients all the information they need to make decisions that are in keeping with the patients’ own personal values. By extension, this includes giving accurate information to the best of the physician’s ability. “A Woman’s Right to Know” forces doctors to violate this principle. Patients expect to be able to trust their doctors to provide them accurate information with regards to their care, which is what forms the basis of the doctor-patient relationship. The state of Texas forces any doctor even discussing abortion to undermine this relationship and violate the ethics of our profession by mandating this pamphlet’s distribution. The political agenda behind “A Woman’s Right to Know” undercuts the foundations of the trusting relationship doctors depend on to provide their patients with the best possible care. Putting aside personal politics, any medical professional should be concerned by the state’s partisan involvement in healthcare. With our fact-resistant political climate, any kind of evidence-based medicine could be up for legislation based on the political leanings of extremist policy makers.

I struggled to edit “A Woman’s Right to Know” for many hours until the entire document was basically a series of red ‘x’ marks and aggravated, high school English teacher-style scrawlings in the margins. And, much like many high school English assignments, there was little worth salvaging. Undeterred, I wrote my own pamphlet, complete with scientific citations and local resources for contraception and child-rearing assistance. The State, in their fervor against abortion, neglected to include these valuable services in the original document. If you’d like to use my version of the pamphlet to provide information to those in need, you can find it here. It is freely available to anyone because I firmly believe that people deserve to have all the facts they need to make decisions for themselves. I became a doctor to help people live their best lives – protecting autonomy is essential to that goal.

Dr. Corinne McLeod is currently a resident physician at Albany Medical Center specializing in OB/GYN. She is originally from Austin and hopes to return to Texas to work in reproductive health.