With the far right ascendant in Texas politics, once-marginal ideas and people have found a place in the political mainstream. Our recurring Fringe Factor series is an introduction to the often-unknown, but influential activists, thinkers and operatives who play a growing role in shaping the state.
Bradley Pierce and Wesley Thomas draw a distinction between themselves and other anti-abortion activists. They are not “pro-life,” they’re “abolitionists.” The two leaders of the group Abolish Abortion Texas, founded three years ago, compare themselves to anti-slavery abolitionists in their crusade to outlaw abortion without exception. Texas must “ignore Roe,” Pierce said at the state GOP convention last year, in order to end “the Nile River of blood that is flowing through our land.”
Abolish Abortion Texas is the most extreme anti-abortion group in the state. Both leaders are staunch religious-right activists: Thomas is a GOP precinct chairman in Liberty County, according to his Facebook page; Pierce, who lives in Liberty Hill, is an attorney and cofounder of the legal advocacy firm Heritage Defense, which is dedicated to “advancing the Kingdom of Christ by protecting and empowering the biblical family.” Abolish Abortion Texas has gained momentum this year, as red states pass increasingly extreme anti-abortion bills in order to set up a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade. Thomas claims the group has grown from 3,000 to nearly 90,000 members since the beginning of this year.
Already they’ve had legislative victories. Members convinced the Texas GOP to adopt outlawing abortion, regardless of federal law, as part of the official party platform in 2016. Pierce and Thomas also allied with far-right Arlington Representative Tony Tinderholt, who filed the Abolish Abortion Act in the last two sessions, which would have criminalized abortion and charged patients and doctors with murder. Tinderholt told the Observer in 2017 that his proposal would “force” women to be “more personally responsible.” It did not include exceptions for rape and incest.
“The entire bill is about treating people how you want be treated, it’s about the Golden Rule,” Pierce said of Tinderholt’s bill, which would make women who get abortions eligible for the death penalty. “Because every human being is made in the image of God.” The bill got a hearing this session in the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, chaired by Republican state Representative Jeff Leach.
Pierce and Thomas argue that states don’t need to wait for the courts to reverse the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. “Roe v. Wade was not only an unconstitutional decision but is morally wrong and Texas leaders are duty bound to ignore it and provide equal protection to all Texans,” Thomas wrote in an email to the Observer.
Abolish Abortion Texas is unique in that it opposes any incremental anti-abortion measures that do not outlaw the procedure entirely. Group members have testified against bills, including one in 2017 to mandate burial or cremation of fetal remains and one this year to ban partnerships between local governments and abortion affiliates like Planned Parenthood, that they say don’t go far enough. “We believe the incremental measures concede the principle, and by conceding principle do more harm than good,” said Thomas as he videotaped himself driving home from the Texas GOP convention last June, sporting a long red beard and a T-shirt that read “Righteous Resistance.” Even a six-week abortion ban, filed in Texas and passed in other Southern states this year, “undermines the very moral argument we’re trying to make: that abortion ends a human life, and that is murder, that is homicide.”
An Abolish Abortion Texas pamphlet.
The hardline stance has deepened a rift among anti-abortion groups and lawmakers, making even the far-right group Texas Right to Life, which seeks to use the courts to dismantle Roe v. Wade, seem almost moderate in comparison, and depicting some of the most staunch anti-abortion conservatives as obstacles to the group’s mission.
“What’s really happening is [Republicans] don’t want to pass any significant pro-life or abolition legislation this session,” Pierce said in a Facebook video in April, as Tinderholt’s bill stalled in committee. Thomas sat next to him wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “IGNORE ROE” and nodded.
“I believe this bill will pass, someday,” said Pierce. “With something this monumental — you think about William Wilberforce,” he said, referencing the British politician who was a leader in the anti-slavery movement in the 1800s. “He had to keep bringing it up over and over. … So everything that’s happening right now, and all the controversy — this is progress.”
Lawmaker: Criminalizing Abortion Would Force Women to be ‘More Personally Responsible’: Bill sends a clear message that the Texas GOP will continue to invade women’s constitutional right to privacy beyond what is allowed under federal law.
Meet the ‘Abolitionists,’ the Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Group at the Texas Lege: A new religious right group known as Abolish Abortion Texas is partially behind the state GOP’s new extreme stance on abortion.
‘Lies into Laws’: Texas House Passes ‘Born Alive’ Anti-Abortion Bill Despite Protest: HB 16 would penalize doctors who don’t give full medical treatment to babies born alive after abortion. Practically speaking, the bill does very little.