AUSTIN, Texas -- Undeterred by a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down sweeping abortion restrictions that were sold as protecting women’s health, Texas Republicans are pushing new measures pitched as protecting fetuses, with a hopeful eye toward Washington.
New anti-abortion measures are moving through the Legislature — where Democrats are virtually powerless to stop them -- and opponents see a shift in GOP strategy after last year’s 5-3 Supreme Court ruling that rejected the state’s claims of trying to safeguard women and dismantled a 2013 law that prompted many of the state’s abortion clinics to close.
A state Senate committee on Wednesday will begin hearing three anti-abortion measures, none of which claim to be aimed at protecting women’s health. And with the Supreme Court apparently set to become more socially conservative under President Donald Trump, Republicans say there is a new opportunity.
“You would be almost remiss and neglectful, in my opinion, not to push that envelope going forward knowing what’s coming up,” Republican state Sen. Charles Perry said.
The newest Texas proposals would toughen regulations on what happens to a fetus both before and after an abortion. Perry’s proposal would mostly ban a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, and is similar to laws that courts have blocked in Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana.
Another bill would require fetal remains to be buried or cremated. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has already ordered that change, but it is on hold pending a federal trial.
A third proposal would ban, among other things, the donation of fetal tissue under a measure Republicans have sought since the release of heavily edited, secretly recorded videos shot inside Planned Parenthood clinics by an anti-abortion group in 2015.
Perry said his bill has nothing to do with protecting women’s health — a departure from how Republicans defended the former law known as HB2, which imposed building upgrades on abortion clinics and required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges. More than 20 abortion clinics in Texas closed after the law passed.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion striking down that law that it failed to offer “medical benefits” sufficient to justify the burdens placed on women.
“The Supreme Court called them out on that,” said Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Because the avenue of lying about what is good women’s health and safety is now foreclosed to them, they’re now having to turn to other methods to make operating a practice difficult if not almost impossible.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into a law a bill similar to Perry’s proposal last month The ban is among a push by abortion opponents nationally and at statehouses around the country with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress. Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, has a conservative legal philosophy seen as similar to the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s.