Anti-Abortion Lawmakers (Almost All Men) Are Worried Time is Running Out on Their Bills

Anti-abortion lawmakers flank Texas Right to Life legislative director John Seago at a press conference.  Sophie Novack

With less than a month left in the legislative session, anti-abortion lawmakers are worried their priority bills will not pass in time. And they say fellow Republicans will be to blame if that happens.

“You can’t count votes on pro-life bills in the Texas House, you have to count days left in the legislative calendar,” said Representative Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, at a press conference Tuesday morning. Members of the House Freedom Caucus along with several other conservative lawmakers, joined Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, to urge the House to consider legislation more quickly.

Of the 17 lawmakers present, Representative Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, was the only woman — a pattern critics say shows anti-abortion legislators are out of touch and not ultimately concerned with women’s health.

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“This speaks volumes as to where these policies are coming from, and the intentions behind them,” said Alexa Garcia-Ditta, communications and policy initiatives director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “They’re not coming from physicians, women, or people who ever use reproductive health care, including abortion.”

Looming legislative deadlines are leading to finger-pointing by conservative Republicans, who believe their colleagues are not doing enough to fight abortion.

“We’re feeling a sense of urgency to get bills on the House floor now,” said Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. “Every day that goes past gives opponents to this legislation more time and more leverage to make sure they never get out of the House.”

State Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, (left) and Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler (center)  Sam DeGrave

Schaefer argued that House leadership has prioritized legislation on the budget, education, Child Protective Services (CPS) and ride-hailing while ignoring measures that would further limit abortion access in Texas.

“If pro-life bills don’t get to the House floor, there is no one to blame but Republicans of the Texas House,” Shaefer said.

But abortion-rights groups say the attacks on reproductive rights are constant, citing the high number of anti-abortion bills proposed each session and continued attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, despite court rulings that have found numerous Texas measures unconstitutional.

Emily Cook, Texas Right to Life’s political director and general counsel, said House leadership is stalling on the group’s top priority this session — the so-called dismemberment ban, which would outlaw dilation and evacuation abortions, one of the most common procedures used for second-trimester abortions. The measure has already passed the Senate; the House version, authored by Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, was referred to the House State Affairs Committee but has not yet received a hearing.

Following the press conference, House Freedom Caucus members attempted to add anti-abortion amendments to the Texas Board of Nursing sunset bill up for debate Tuesday. They proposed a handful of pre-filed measures, none of which made it on the bill.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the House State Affairs Committee is taking up another priority bill for Texas Right to Life, which would ban private insurers from covering abortions.

Another prominent anti-abortion group, Texas Alliance for Life, also lists barring abortion from insurance coverage as a priority, but says the ban on dilation and evacuation abortions should be avoided because it will not survive a federal court challenge. But many lawmakers are undeterred.

Wendy Davis filibuster 2013
Wendy Davis, with a little help from some vocal pro-choice supporters, filibusters an anti-abortion bill for 11 hours in the Texas Senate.  Patrick Michels

“Some people say in 2013 Wendy Davis wore pink shoes and effectively stalled and ultimately delayed passage of a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, but the simple truth is Republicans handed her the ability to do that,” said Schaefer, who authored a bill this session that would remove exceptions to the state’s 20-week abortion ban in cases when the fetus is not viable or has severe and irreversible abnormalities.

“Unfortunately, session after session the Texas House has not prioritized pro-life bills,” he said.

In 2013, Davis, then a state senator, held an 11-hour filibuster against House Bill 2, a sweeping anti-abortion measure that was ultimately passed by the Texas Legislature. The law forced more than half the abortion clinics in the state to close before the Supreme Court struck down two major provisions last June. Only three of the more than two dozen shuttered clinics have reopened since.

Sophie is the public health reporting fellow at the Observer. She previously covered health care policy and politics at National Journal in Washington, D.C. You can contact her at [email protected].

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