Texas Governor Bypasses State Legislature To Launch Bizarre Anti-Abortion Strategy

Texas Attorney General, now Governor, Greg Abbott speaks during an anti-abortion rally at the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY
Texas Attorney General, now Governor, Greg Abbott speaks during an anti-abortion rally at the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY

Texas anti-abortion lawmakers aren’t letting the Supreme Court stop them from standing between a woman and her reproductive health. Four days after the court’s June decision to block HB2, the Texas law that would have shuttered many of the state’s few remaining abortion facilities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) quietly set a new anti-abortion strategy into play.

His tactic: Requiring abortion clinic staff to bury or cremate the remains of every abortion procedure that takes place in their facility.

Unlike past state anti-abortion laws, Abbott sidestepped the state legislature by simply proposing a new “rule” for the state health services agency. The public has just one month to comment on this rule before it could potentially go into effect — effectively cutting out months of debate and rewrites commonly found in legislature proceedings. This is a red flag to abortion advocates.

This is a choice families should be making, not the state.

“This doesn’t follow the normal rulemaking process,” said Blake Rocap, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ legal council. “Usually these rules are proposed by staff…not the governor.”

“Fetal tissue, regardless of the period of gestation,” the rule reads, must be subject to “interment” or “cremation” following an abortion. This means medical staff would be expected to formally bury a fetus that may be as small as a lentil. There is no information on where this tissue will be buried, if a funeral director would be legally required, or how it will be paid for. What is clear, however, is the rule’s simple goal: To add to an abortion doctor’s workload and guilt women who receive abortions. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2016/06/27/3792909/texas-case-ripple-effects/Rocap said this rule could also potentially block women from donating the fetal tissue to scientific research. Fetal tissue research has been under attack ever since an anti-abortion advocacy group used a video campaign to suggest members of Planned Parenthood were profiting off of fetal tissue — a belief that has been disproved in dozens of courts across the country. But GOP members of the Senate continue to investigate the empty claim .

Abbott, however, said his motivations behind the rule is to “affirm the dignity of life” — a familiar argument lawmakers have used to defend harmful and unnecessary anti-abortion laws across the county.

“This is a new low for out state’s leaders who are committed to making abortion inaccessible and shaming Texans who have abortions,” said Heather Busby, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in a press release. “A person who needs an abortion will unfairly bear the burden of these new regulations and every abortion patient deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

It’s unlikely many state residents — or even members of the statehouse — are aware of this proposed rule’s existence. Which may be the point. Abbott buried the proposed rule in a journal published by the Secretary of State on rulemaking within state agencies. And the rule’s vague text leaves abortion advocates with a heap of unanswered questions.

This rule precludes modern medicine by placing some weird practice on medicine that is not at all scientific.

“This rule precludes modern medicine by placing some weird practice on medicine that is not at all scientific,” said Rocap. “It’s instead exalting a ritual some people would prefer. This is a choice families should be making, not the state.”

If medical facilities are mandated to follow non-scientific practice, Rocap said, it could inspire other lawmakers to place similarly unnecessary laws on all medical facilities.

If Abbott’s rule continues to fly under the radar, Texas could be the first state to mandate a fetal burial law. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), who is now the presumptive GOP vice presidential candidate, signed a fetal burial bill into law in March — but a federal judge blocked the law from going into effect shortly after the Supreme Court’s HB2 verdict. A few other states have also unsuccessfully pursued fetal burial bills.

Rocap said that after the rule’s public comment window, which closes August 1, the state will likely revise the draft rule based on the comments. If approved, it could become state law as early as September.