The Texas rulemaking agency tasked with implementing part of the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law received more than 19,000 comments from residents asking it to lessen the negative impact of HB 2, which reproductive rights supporters anticipate will close all but six abortion clinics in the state. State health officials are expected to finalize the rules, which require Texas abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, this week.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) received 19,365 comments—19,100 of them in opposition to the law—a record number that “flooded the inbox” of Texas health officials during a 30-day public comment period.
Data show roughly 19,100 individual commenters urged regulators to tweak final rules to include a grandfather clause for current facilities, an effort to prevent widespread clinic closures. On the flipside, about 265 people wrote to regulators saying they need to follow the Legislature’s intent and implement rules.
A DSHS spokesperson told the paper that the agency did not have the leeway to include grandfather clauses. She told the Express-News, “For us to have authority to grandfather facilities or offer waivers, that ability would have had to have been written into the statute.”
Reproductive rights supporters are celebrating the flood of comments as a victory unto itself. Austin abortion rights activist Jessica Luther, who in October exhorted her fellow Texans to write to state health officials about the proposed rules implementing HB 2, responded to the news by writing that Texans “showed DSHS that they are still watching, still angry, and still ready and willing to let everyone know.”
The state health services council itself, which advises on these kinds of rulemaking decisions, appears to agree with the more than 19,000 Texans who filed comments against the law. Earlier this year, the council took a symbolic but powerful stance against HB 2 by declining to vote on the proposed rules at all.
But ultimately, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek, a former Republican state senator, has the final word on how his agency will deal with the law, and one of his conservative colleagues told the Express-News that they fully expect Janek to “implement the will of the Legislature.”