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For decades, the pro-abortion lines in the Texas Legislature have been as well-defined as they are deeply rooted. Every two years, Republicans tried to find more and more ways to outsmart Roe v. Wade, while Democrats relied on the courts as a defense against further restrictions.
But now the deed is done, the war is won, and abortion is almost outlawed in Texas. The number of monthly legal abortions in the state has fallen to low single digits.
In overturning Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court did more than strike down constitutional protections for abortion. It also rendered irrelevant many of the Texas most controversial political squabbles over the last fifty years, forcing both sides to rethink their time-tested legislative strategies.
In this session, Democrats are stoking outrage and trying to sidestep the courts, while many Republicans hope to bypass the issue entirely, focusing instead on property taxes, education issues, and anti-LGBTQ efforts.
None of the Big Three — the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House — have said they intend to focus on abortion this session, likely holding back both the right wing of the Republican Party, which is pushing for more restrictions, and the Democrats. who hope to get rid of the near total ban.
“Obviously we can’t repeal the law,” said Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin. “Therefore, we are focusing on reducing the damage and focusing on access to health care.”
Striving for more
While the repeal of Roe v. Wade could move abortion to the priority list for some Republicans, the issue is certainly not going to disappear from the discourse anytime soon.
As of Friday, 151 lobbyists have announced their intention to speak for or against the abortion law this session, including those from aggressive Texas. nationally influential the anti-abortion movement.
“We just scored a huge historic victory,” said John Seago of Texas Right to Life. “But, in our opinion, the victory is not fully achieved, it is not completely secured until we enforce our laws.”
In the immediate aftermath of the decision, some anti-abortion Republicans vowed to tighten existing laws against abortion except to save the life of a pregnant patient.
The primary target is companies that help pay for abortions for out-of-state employees. Rep. Jared PattersonRepublican from Dallas filed an invoice this will prevent these companies from receiving tax breaks from the state.
Rep. Briscoe Kane, a Deer Park Republican, vowed to introduce a bill that would bypass district attorneys who won’t be charged with abortion. Cain has not filed this bill yet; he did not respond to a request for comment.
Similar bill was filed, which would allow the Attorney General to take over cases of electoral fraud.
The Attorney General will also be allowed to seek financial sanctions from any District Attorney who “prohibits or substantially restricts the execution of any criminal offense” under two bills filed in House and Senate.
“Instead of accepting politically motivated virtue signaling and blanket immunity for criminals, district attorneys are required to assess the merits of each alleged crime on a case-by-case basis to ensure the public safety of Texans,” said State Rep. David. Cook, a Mansfield Republican who filed the bill with a state senator. Tan Parker Flower Mound, in a press release.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Dade Phelan mentioned the role of district attorneys in curbing crime in his opening remarks in the House of Representatives.
“If the rogue DAs don’t follow the law,” Phelan said, “it’s time to rein them in.”
The legislation does not directly address abortion, but Seago said the effort will help the cause.
“But the devil is in the details,” Seago said. “Are we going to just punish these DAs for not doing their job, or are we going to put in tools to bypass them and enforce the laws?”
Texas is likely to see more anti-abortion bills before the March 10 filing deadline. Other states passed laws that criminalize pregnant women who have abortionstighten restrictions on medical abortion and put more barriers to minors seeking abortions.
But in a tense session, with a budget to negotiate and a surplus to spendany new proposals will compete with a host of other Republican priorities.
“This is one of the tasks that we have to solve,” Seago said. “We had this historic victory, but we are always competing with other challenges.”
Clicking on advanced exclusions
In the meantime, Democrats are hoping to expand the list of circumstances under which medical professionals are allowed to perform abortions. Bills have been filed to allow abortion in cases where the fetus incompatible with lifeto preserve the mental health of a pregnant patient or in cases of rape or incest.
But to make any progress on that front, Democrats will need Republicans to join their cause. While some expressed interest in adding exceptions due to rape and incest, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick threw cold water on even that extra step.
“Does anything else go beyond [the existing exceptions]I don’t know at the moment,” Patrick said. WFAA, television station in Dallas, last week. “I can’t hear for this squall… I need to see a big squall.”
However, both parties seem to be interested in expanding women’s health care. One of Phelan’s top priorities is expanding postpartum Medicaid from two months after birth to a full year. The Senate has resisted similar proposals in the past.
“Fortunately, we have heard a lot of conservatives over the past two years, since this last session, join us,” Seago said. “They see it makes financial sense, and rightly so.”
Democrats have also introduced bills that would expand maternal health care, increase family planning funding, and strengthen the social safety net.
“Hopefully my colleagues who are promoting their so-called life protection program… will put their money into their mouths and help us take care of these moms and babies,” Howard said.
Democrats are also pushing for more access to contraceptives, especially for minors. Texas teens almost always need to get parental consent to access contraceptives. One of the few programs offering confidential contraception has recently been launched. blocked by federal court.
“We’ve been saying all along that if you want to avoid abortions, the best way to come together is to prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in the first place,” Howard said. “And part of that has to do with access to contraceptives.”
Rep. Ana Maria Ramos, a Democrat from Dallas, has filed a bill that would allow minors to have access to contraceptives without parental consent. Ramos, who gave birth to her first child at 15, said that high birth rate among teenagers is evidence that young people are having sex – and that they need more tools to do it safely.
“The only reason I was able to get a GED and get a law degree and become a legislator was because I was able to get birth control and I was able to plan for the future for myself and my daughter,” Ramos said.
Democrats and Republicans are expected to submit additional bills before the March deadline, each attempting to move in opposite directions. Ramos expressed her hope that women’s health will become a central issue.
“There is little they can do to deprive women of their rights,” Ramos said. “Of course you say that, and then they think of something else.”