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Rushing to Outlaw Abortion

House Joint Resolution 22, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview
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David Simpson wasted no time filing legislation that would further limit abortion options for Texas women.

Just six days after being elected, Simpson—one of those precocious Tea Party freshmen—rushed to Austin on Nov. 8 and waited in line for hours at the Capitol to pre-file House Joint Resolution 22. The constitutional amendment would prevent any government money—state and local tax dollars—from going to clinics that perform abortions or “abortion-related services.”

“It’s not the place of the government to take the fruits of our labor and fund an act that most people find immoral,” Simpson said. “My bill prohibits the civil government from sponsoring abortions or related activities.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. Much of Simpson’s amendment is already in state law. Since 2005, Texas has prohibited organizations that perform abortions from receiving state funding, even if those dollars would go toward administrative costs, rent or family- planning services—which includes birth control, screenings or annual exams. Clinics can receive government funds only if they don’t perform abortions, and are legally and financially separate entities from those that do offer them.

But HJR 22 would take the ban a step further. First, it would enshrine current law in the Texas Constitution, from which it would be extremely difficult to remove. (Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature and approval from Texas voters.)

But  Simpson’s resolution could also hamstring local health departments, which are not currently prohibited from contracting with clinics that perform abortions.

For example, the Travis County health care district, known as Central Health, partners with local providers like Planned Parenthood. Central Health’s budget for fiscal year 2010, two-thirds of which is local tax revenue from Travis County residents, included $450,000 for abortions.

HJR 22 would extend the ban on abortions to local tax dollars, which would prevent local health care districts such as Central Health from offering abortion services to low-income women.

Also, some of the bill’s language seems unclear. Specifically, the phrase “abortion-related services” concerns Sarah Wheat, vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. “There’s no definition” of abortion-related services, Wheat said. “If that means birth control, then this would have an extraordinary impact on Texas women.”

Simpson said his amendment is not intended to affect counseling, birth control or health services.

Still, if his amendment passes the Legislature, and if voters approve it, the options for pregnant women in Texas would be even more restricted.

 

An earlier version incorrectly gave the impression that CommUnityCare performs abortions. They do not.