Democrats Are Trying To Undo The Damage To Abortion Rights In Texas

Thousands of protesters rallied at the Texas capitol over the summer to oppose the new clinic restrictions CREDIT: MIKE STONE/REUTERS
Thousands of protesters rallied at the Texas capitol over the summer to oppose the new clinic restrictions CREDIT: MIKE STONE/REUTERS

Ever since the summer of 2013, when thousands of activists flooded the Texas capitol in an attempt to block an omnibus package of harsh abortion restrictions, the Lone Star State has been transformed into a high-profile battleground for reproductive rights. Now, huge swaths of the state don’t have any abortion clinics. Low-income and rural women’s health care access in particular is hanging in the balance.

But some members of the Texas legislature are working to fight back. A group of Democratic lawmakers have introduced a package of pro-choice bills that would undo some of the damage that’s been done to women’s health in their state over the past several years.

One proposed bill would roll back the current mandatory 24-hour waiting period, which places more barriers in front of low-income women who struggle to make the long trip to their nearest clinic. Another would require “medically accurate” sex ed classes in schools rather than abstinence-only curricula. Lawmakers are also seeking to exempt abortion doctors from criminal penalties if they violate state laws that require them to go against their best medical judgment.

At a press conference on Thursday, the sponsors of the legislation joined with several reproductive rights organizations — including the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the Texas Freedom Network, and Whole Woman’s Health — to advocate for those issue areas.

There’s practically no chance the bills will advance. In the Texas legislature, Republicans currently outnumber Democrats by a two-to-one margin. Still, though, the pro-choice advocates say they’re seeking to raise awareness about how Texas’ current laws are harming the residents of the state. They want to educate the public as well as hold their colleagues accountable for approving what they say are “dangerous” laws.

“The worst that could happen is we all become silent,” Rep. Jessica Farrar (D), who introduced the measure to repeal the 24-hour wait, said at Thursday’s event.

Over the past two years, as pro-choice lawmakers have started to shift their focus to become more proactive on issues of reproductive rights, this type of legislative strategy has become more common.

In Virginia — another state whose harsh restrictions on abortion have sparked national outrage — Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills intended to roll back some of the barriers currently imposed on the procedure. Members of the legislature have unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the state’s mandatory ultrasound law, which has been decried as “state-sponsored rape” by its opponents. The health department is also in the process of reviewing harsh restrictions on abortion clinics, a process that may eventually scale back those requirements.

On the national level, members of U.S. Congress have also started to go on the offense, pushing for legislation that would prevent states from continuing to enact anti-science abortion restrictions and that would roll back some of the consequences of the recent Hobby Lobby ruling.

Despite the fact that the legislation in Texas is a long shot, the lawmakers say it’s important to them to keep pushing. Farrar pointed out that when “people are vocal over time, eventually you have success.”