Hopes and fears for Roe v Wade

With a possible challenge to Roe v Wade looming, both sides of the abortion debate shore up state laws

Austin—State lawmakers on both sides of the abortion debate regularly file bills in their respective statehouses to secure abortion-on-demand or ensure an unborn baby’s right to live. The introduction of abortion-related legislation the past two years has taken on new urgency in anticipation of a possible challenge to Roe v Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.

While pro-life legislators continue to press for more abortion restrictions, pro-abortion bills threaten to undo decades of that work. Democrat-controlled legislatures like New York have passed or filed bills rolling back all of their states’ abortion regulations. And once reliably pro-life states like Texas and North Carolina are losing their conservative super majorities along with their ability to control abortion legislation.

Pro-life Texans shocked by the New York State Assembly’s passage in January of the Reproductive Health Act or troubled by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s approval of a similar bill in his state should consider their own laws before casting stones, pro-life advocates told the TEXAN.

Late-term abortion is legal in Texas. Although state law prohibits abortion after 20 weeks gestation the law provides exceptions for the life of the mother or a diagnosis of fetal abnormality. But late-term abortion would become unrestrained if Senate Bill 150 passes. Authored by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D- El Paso, the Whole Woman’s Health Act, would repeal the state’s abortion regulations clearing the way for abortion-on-demand up to birth.

“That’s kind of their omnibus bill,” said Emily Horne, Texas Right to Life legislative associate. “The abortion crowd is starting to feel threatened by pro-life laws. I think there is a general fear that Roe will be overturned.”

That fear is not unfounded, according to Steven Aden, Americans United for Life chief legal officer. Cases to watch that could force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v Wade include Indiana’s ultrasound law and its human fetal remains provision he told the TEXAN. Both laws have been appealed to the Supreme Court.

In Texas, Senate Bill 150, sent to in the Health and Human Services Committee Feb. 1, shares the same name and almost identical language as a bill that died in the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017. That measure, The Whole Woman’s Health Act (WWHA), failed and Raleigh lawmakers have given no indication if they will reintroduce the bill session.

The bill is named in recognition of abortion clinic chain owner Amy Hagstrom Miller who successfully sued Texas over a 2013 law requiring that abortionists have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The WWHA is model legislation disseminated by the Public Leadership Institute, a non-profit organization that promotes a liberal social agenda, including the repeal of state abortion regulations. Its president and founder, Gloria Totten, has led abortion-rights campaigns at the state and national level. In 2016 PLI published the Playbook for Abortion Rights, a 190-page guide for state leaders working to advance abortion rights through legislation.

In a January 2018 blog Totten lauded the efforts of lawmakers in 25 states to “affirmatively protect women’s fundamental right to abortion.”

“This nationwide demonstration of resolve is just the beginning for 2018. Importantly, it’s part of a larger movement-wide effort to take the offense on abortion rights,” she said.

A year later, that movement has borne bitter fruit. Emboldened by their pro-abortion allies or fearing a reversal of Roe v Wade, pro-choice lawmakers have increased efforts to codify unlimited abortion on demand into state laws, according to national pro-life representatives.

In addition to New York, lawmakers in Vermont, New Jersey, North Carolina and Illinois filed bills the past two years that would rescind their state’s abortion regulations in part or whole. The Illinois bill, filed Feb. 13, mirrors New York’s Reproductive Health Act that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Jan. 23, to the cheers of onlookers, including the mayor’s special guest, Sarah Weddington, the attorney who represented Roe before the Supreme Court in 1973.

The Illinois bill would roll back a host of regulations dating back to 1975, including the state’s ban on partial birth abortion. If passed, newly elected Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, will most likely sign it. In January he signed an executive order requiring state abortion insurance coverage for state employees.

“I’m proud to declare under my administration, the State of Illinois will be the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to guaranteeing the right to choose for every single woman,” Pritzker said.

Pushing back, pro-life lawmakers have introduced life-affirming measures including banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected and, in Texas, creating a state constitutional amendment declaring an unborn baby’s right to life.

Texas Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Baytown, following the example of about 10 other states, filed the Texas Heartbeat Bill Feb. 7 prohibiting abortions after the detection of a heartbeat—that can be as early as six weeks after conception. Mississippi passed a similar bill Feb. 13 after a district judge ruled the state’s 15-week abortion ban unconstitutional.

A bill closing the late-term abortion loophole in Texas law was filed in late February by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills. The Pre-Born Nondiscrimination Act (SB 1033, HB 2434) would prohibit abortions motivated by the preborn child’s sex, race, or disability said Rebecca Parma, Texas Right to Life legislative and political associate.

Previous Texas House leadership required every pro-life bill to allow abortion to protect the life of the mother said Parma. The provision, loosely defined and applied, allowed abortion-minded patients and physicians to circumvent the law with claims of a life or mental health threatening diagnosis.

But such a provision is unnecessary according to physicians who authored a Feb. 17 letter to the U.S. Congress in support of the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act.

“Abortion is not healthcare, much less an essential part of women’s health care, and abortions in the third trimester are not done to save a woman’s life,” said the authors who represent 30,000 physicians and their medical organizations. While “rare” some pregnant women face life-threatening circumstances but they said “after 20 weeks fertilization age, it is never necessary to intentionally kill the fetal human being in order to save a woman’s life.”

Both mother and baby can be saved, the doctors said.

Schaefer and Hancock’s bill would also require medical personnel inform parents about medical and social services available to families with a preborn child diagnosed with a life-limiting disability.

“We want to not only say no to abortions that unfairly target certain vulnerable preborn populations, but yes to Life and providing options for that,” Parma said.

Texas legislation will also protect medical professionals opposed to abortion from having to participate in one and end taxpayer funded abortions by municipal and county governments. For example, Austin rents a city-owned building to Planned Parenthood for only $1 a year with a 20-year contract.

As pro-life and pro-abortion advocates watch and wait for a viable challenge to the abortion ruling they speculate on how each state will be affected. States like New York have their abortion-on-demand law in place should the high court send the case back to the states.

For Texas, where the lawsuit began, legal scholars debate the outcome.

“This is a very theoretical question. It’s a legal thought experiment,” said Horne.

If Roe is overturned, abortion law in Texas will return to its pre-Roe state making the practice unlawful, Aden said. But “any and all options are always on the table for the Supreme Court. So, the full range of options would be available, from completely overturning the decision to fully vindicating it.”

In the meantime, no one is resting on their laurels and pro-life advocates should continue their work in the statehouses, abortion clinics and pregnancy centers Aden said.

“These efforts have driven down the abortion rate in America to where it was in 1972 – the year before Roe v. Wade,” he said. “In spite of the desperate attempts by pro-abortion activists, they more people know about abortion, the less they think women need to live with it.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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