The 83rd Texas Legislature: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Correction, April 2, 6:35 pm: This article has been edited to correct the name and district of state Rep. Stefani Carter, the sponsor of HB 3819, who represents Dallas.

What does the 83rd Texas Legislature hold for the future reproductive and sexual health of the state’s residents? RH Reality Check breaks down the good, bad, and ugly bills filed by state lawmakers this session. On tap: the potential shuttering of all but five Texas abortion clinics, a host of sexual education bills both progressive and regressive, and challenges to the rights of minors to access and consent to abortions.

THE GOOD

—HB 58: Authored by Democratic state Rep. Lon Burnam, reliable uber-lefty from Fort Worth, this bill would undo one of 2011′s greatest legislative crimes against low-income Texans’ access to reproductive health care: the ban on abortion providers or their “affiliates” (read: Planned Parenthood) from participating in the Women’s Health Program.

Will it become law? No way in hell. Texas legislators are extremely proud of their war on Planned Parenthood.

—HB 1696, 1701: Authored by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), a lefty firebrand, these bills would repeal Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, which criminalizes “homosexual conduct,” and would repeal statutory language requiring sexual education programs to “state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense.”

Will they become lawNot while Senate Republicans are busy trying to ban Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in schools because they believe anything other than abstinence-only education will result in sexually active Kindergarteners.

—HB 1704: Authored by Rep. Farrar, this bill would require health-care providers to offer “medically and factually accurate and unbiased” information about emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors, and provide said contraception to them after a verified negative pregnancy test.”

Will it become lawUnlikely. This bill needs more than Farrar’s charisma for momentum.

—HB 1706: Another one of Rep. Farrar’s attempts to make Texas more woman-friendly, this bill would protect breastfeeding women, dictating that “a mother’s authority to be in a location may not be revoked for the sole reason that she begins to breast-feed,” and “a person may not interfere with or restrict the right of a mother to breast-feed.”

Will it become law? Unlikely. This is another good bill from Farrar that probably won’t be a priority for her colleagues. It certainly isn’t to Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Houston), who went on a Facebook rampage against immodest women breastfeeding in public.

—HB 1708, 1709: There are two more bills from Rep. Farrar, this time concerning the Texas Women’s Health Program, which launched in January after the Texas kicked Planned Parenthood out of its previously well-performing Women’s Health Program (WHP), which resulted in the loss of a 90 percent federal match in funds. HB 1708 would require that the new Texas Women’s Health Program provide an annual report on its providers and patients served. HB 1709 would require the state to apply once again for its lost WHP Medicaid funds if, in the future, it uses a “poison pill” clause to shut the program down in response to being forced (most likely by court order) to include Planned Parenthood in the WHP.

Will they become law? No. State lawmakers have already done what they came to do with the WHP, which is to gut it and score political points with the anti-choice lobby.

—HB 2160, 2161, 2178: A package of bills aimed at giving teenage mothers better access to contraception, from El Paso’s freshman Democratic Rep. Mary Gonzalez. HB 2160 would allow an unwed minor parent who is 15 or older to legally consent to contraception. HB 2161 would lower the age of eligibility for enrollment in the Texas Women’s Health Program to age 15 for teenage mothers. HB 2178 would require the Children’s Medicaid program to cover contraceptives for teenage mothers age 15 and older.

Will they become law? As a freshman, Gonzalez’s bills are unlikely to advance without considerable bipartisan support, which they may find in her house committees. Will that support extend to the rest of the house? It’s a long shot.

—HB 2945: Authored by moderate Republican Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, this bill would remove language linking breast cancer to safe, legal abortion from the “Woman’s Right To Know” information that all abortion-seeking Texans are required to acknowledge receipt of.

Will it become lawThere’s no documented, scientific or medical connection between breast cancer and abortion, but that doesn’t mean Davis’ anti-choice colleagues will be inclined to accommodate her solo-authored bill.

—HB 3744: This is another bill aimed at increasing, rather than reducing, reproductive health-care access in Texas from Rep. Farrar. One of her signature bills in the 83rd Legislature, it would eliminate Texas’ mandatory 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, which went into law in 2011. (The waiting period applies to any Texan who lives within 100 miles of any abortion provider.)

Will it become law? Despite university research showing that the 24-hour wait period has a negative effect on women, Texas lawmakers are unlikely to repeal one of their hallmark anti-choice laws after just two years.

—HB 3745: This bill from Rep. Farrar would require that the information contained in the “Women’s Right to Know” packet presented to abortion-seeking Texans be “in accordance to standards adopted by the National Institute of Health and its partner organizations.”

Will it become law? Fighting for scientifically sound information about abortion in Texas is an uphill battle.

THE BAD

—HB 309: Authored by Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), this bill would ban abortion “when based on the sex of the unborn child” and make performing such an abortion a class B misdemeanor for a physician but not for the person on whom the abortion is performed.

Will it become law? It’s unlikely this session—similar legislation has failed to advance in years past—but look for this kind of bill to gain steam in the future with right-wingers looking for ever more concocted abortion-related problems to solve.

HB 997: Authored and co-authored by a who’s who of house Republican lawmakers, this bill would ban abortion coverage under insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges, except in cases of a “life-threatening physical condition” on behalf of the pregnant person.

Will it become law? Republicans in Texas live and breathe to challenge or weaken Obamacare. This bill, or an amendment like it, is a strong contender.

HB 1057, SB 521: Authored and co-authored by powerful Republicans and anti-choice Democrats, these bills would ban “an entity or individual that performs abortions or an affiliate of an entity or individual that performs abortions” (read: Planned Parenthood) from providing sex education curriculum or sex education itself in Texas public schools.

Will it become law? Hell yes. This is exactly the kind of wholly unnecessary scare-mongering legislation that Texas lawmakers love to spend time on. Want proof? Watch state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) snipe and holler his way through conversations with people who disagreed with him at SB 521′s recent committee hearing. (As a bonus, listen for the anti-choicer claim that Planned Parenthood wants to ensure that kindergarteners are sexually active.)

HB 1413: Authored and co-authored by prominent right-wingers, this bill would add abortion tracking to the state demographer’s job description. It’s a pretty neutral-sounding bill on its face, but when you dig deeper you find that it’s part of a larger trend among Republican legislators in the state to find out as much as possible about who gets abortions in Texas and who provides them—not so that they can reduce the need for safe, legal abortions, but so they can criminalize abortion providers (and maybe abortion-seeking Texans) later. After all, if Texas legislators cared about reducing abortions, they already know how: increase access to contraception. Instead, of course, the people who most need low-cost birth control are less likely than ever to get it.

Will it become law? It’ll be hard for the Republican majority in Texas to resist the temptation to go more Big Brother than ever on abortion providers.

HB 2308, 2309: Freshman Rep. Matt Schaefer’s (R-Tyler) pair of bills would increase the kind and frequency of physicians’ reports made on abortions performed, and penalize doctors for non-compliance. (Think of it as a hyped-up, statutory take on state Rep. Bill Zedler’s (R-Arlington) new Big Brother-style abortion reporting requirements.)

Will they become law? These are the kinds of anti-choice bills that Republicans love to pass, because they intimidate doctors and make abortion harder to provide and access, but it may get lost in the Senate Committee on State Affairs shuffle.

HB 3243: Long-term state Rep. Bill Callegari’s (R-Katy) HB 3243 would increase the burdens on minor Texans who seek abortions, requiring not only parental notification, which is already statutory in Texas, but the consent of one parent.

Will it become law? With parental notification already on the books, legislators may take more convincing before tackling this one, but some modification to abortion law concerning minors is a possibility this session.

HB 3247: Another bill from Rep. Callegari, HB 3247 deals with scrutiny of, reporting on, and criminalization of abortion coercion.

Will it become law? Versions of this bill have been popular among anti-choice legislators in the past, but have not so far gained much traction.

HB 3302: A much heftier take than Rep. Callegeri’s on parental notification and consent for minors seeking abortions, this multi-authored bill describes an “unborn child” as “an individual human organism from fertilization until live birth” and requires the written consent of a parent, who must also provide proof of parentage or guardianship, before a minor can obtain an abortion.

Will it become law? There’s so much to unpack in HB 3302 that it may be held up by committee concerns and arguments over language, but the fundamental content will be deeply appealing to legislators who want to reduce minor Texans’ access to abortion. However, it’s clear this is a big target area for anti-choice legislators, and there’s a good chance Texas could see new or increased regulation of minor abortions.

HB 3819: Yet another take on parental consent for a minor’s abortion, from Rep. Stefani Carter (R-Dallas).

Will it become law? See HB 3302 and HB 3243, above.

THE UGLY

SB 97: Anti-choice state Sen. Dan Patrick, a media mogul from Houston, is one of the Texas legislature’s power players, and he’s coauthored SB 97 with his colleague, Tea Party Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, an opthalmologist with a foot-in-mouth problem. The bill would increase restrictions on medication abortions (the RU-486 pill regimen), demanding that doctors prescribe the pills according to outdated Food and Drug Administration guidelines, effectively setting the practice of good medicine back more than a decade and putting abortion-seeking Texans’ lives in danger. The American College of Gynecologists said the bill would deny “women in Texas the benefits of well-researched, safe and proven protocols that currently exist.”

Will it become law? Patrick’s and Campbell’s bill is a perfect storm of anti-science, anti-medicine thinking and faux-outrage about women’s safety. Its chances are good.

HB 2364, SB 25: These are the multi-authored, Republican-fueled anti-choice dream bills that would ban abortion after 20 weeks in Texas, based on the scientifically unsupported claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. (They don’t.) A 20-week abortion ban would disproportionately affect low-income Texans, Texans of color, and individuals who have experienced “multiple disruptive events,” such as unemployment or separation from a partner, in the last year.

Will they become law? With strong support from Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Republicans in both the state senate and house, a 20-week abortion ban is a serious threat to safe abortion access in Texas, especially with anti-choice legislators’ growing nationwide success with similar bans.

HB 2816, SB 1198: These two targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bills with scads of support from Republican lawmakers would require abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital not more than 30 miles from the site where an abortion is performed, and where there is a dedicated OB/GYN facility.

Will they become law? A contentious house committee hearing has already featured scare mongering from anti-choice legislators and their allies, with graphic descriptions of punctured organs and evil doctors who lack admitting privileges. While there are already regulatory practices in place that keep bad doctors in check, conservative legislators will be anxious to throw their support behind this bill, similar versions of which have been used to shut down abortion clinics and prevent doctors from providing safe, legal abortions in other states.

SB 537: This big TRAP bill has wide support from lawmakers who would like to require all abortion providers in Texas to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers. The likely result: closure of all but five abortion clinics in the state.

Will it become law? This will be one of the debates to watch when the bill hits the big time on the senate floor this spring. Conservative and Republican lawmakers will have a field day playing dumb and outraged about the safety of abortion procedures in Texas.

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  • jen

    This post is for any ‘pro choice’ law makers out there… TRY THIS ONE… if you are a physician looking into a field with ANY connections to Women’s health and cannot/or will not participate in choice related care….YOU CANNOT OBTAIN A LICENSE! Choice related care is a RIGHT, and A COMPONENT of WOMEN’S HEALTH MEDICINE. Find another field if you cannot perform duties that are granted to others as a right in controlling their own healthcare!