Democratic Texas lawmakers who have proposed a handful of new reproductive rights bills said Thursday that they know they have an uphill legislative battle, but that they refused to back down while anti-choice Republicans push for more restrictions on abortion care, sex education, and reproductive health-care access.
At a press conference announcing a new, multi-year public policy campaign called “Trust. Respect. Access.,” Democratic lawmakers were joined by members of a seven-organization coalition including the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), the Texas Freedom Network, and the ACLU of Texas.
“The worst that could happen is we all become silent,” Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) said Thursday morning at the state capitol building. Farrar has proposed legislation that would repeal Texas’ mandatory 24-hour pre-abortion waiting period—a measure she attempted in the 2013 legislative session.
Farrar acknowledged that she didn’t have anywhere near the votes necessary to pass the bill, noting that pro-choice Democrats are outnumbered “two-to-one” in the GOP-dominated state house.
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But coalition members said they are in the fight for the long term, hoping to build on the momentum from the 2013 session that brought thousands of orange-clad reproductive rights supporters to the capitol building in opposition to the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.
Fatimah Gifford, director of public relations for Whole Woman’s Health, one of Texas’ last remaining legal abortion providers and a member of the coalition, said that Farrar, along with Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin) “stand in stark contrast to the continued political interference to decimate reproductive health care here in Texas.”
Gonzalez proposed two bills, one which would require “medically accurate” sex education information be provided to students in Texas public schools and another that would allow Texas mothers as young as 15 to consent to the prescription of contraception without a parent’s permission.
Howard’s bill would exempt physicians from penalties if, in their “good faith professional judgment,” complied with laws that, for example, require abortion providers to tell patients that abortion causes breast cancer, “would be inconsistent with accepted, evidence-based medical practices and ethical standards.”
“We’ve been seeing repeated instances of Texas lawmakers inserting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship,” Howard said. “We’ve seen new mandates implemented despite strong opposition from health professionals and organizations.”
Howard said Texas abortion providers have told her that sometimes they must “choose between their best medical judgment and the directives that are being forced on them by legislators.” Texas law requires that people who seek abortion care undergo mandatory ultrasounds 24 hours before an abortion procedure and severely restricts the prescription of medication abortion detailed in 13-year-old standards that are less effective than more current, evidence-based practices.
“Politics should never take precedence over medical judgment,” Howard said.
A promotora from the Rio Grande Valley who works with NLIRH said that Texans who live along the U.S.-Mexico border have been particularly negatively affected by anti-choice legislation and statewide family planning budget cuts.
“This campaign is personal for me,” said Dinorah Martinez, who works with Latinas in the Valley who lack access to reproductive health care. These women, Martinez said, are tired of “stereotypes” that cast them as anti-choice.
“We hold compassionate, non-judgmental views,” Martinez said, “and we are working every day so that all Texans are able to make their own personal, private decisions about abortion.”
The coalition members—Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the Texas Research Institute, and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas complete the group—said that the three-tiered campaign is meant to encourage policy makers to “trust Texans to make their own reproductive health care decisions, including the timing and spacing of children,” to “respect health-care professionals’ medical and ethical judgment about the care each patient needs,” and to “guarantee access to safe, timely abortion care for all Texans.”
“These bills presented today will go a long way to fix the bad policies which have cut off low-income women, Latinas, and other marginalized communities from essential care,” Martinez said.
This session, conservative lawmakers have so far proposed eight bills that would further limit abortion access, place greater restrictions and requirements on abortion providers, and ban abortion provider “affiliates” from providing sex education in public schools.
Anti-choice GOP lawmakers have again taken up their fight against public funding for Planned Parenthood, and are seeking to block the organization from receiving state funds for a breast and cervical cancer screening program.