Texas Politics

End abortion in Texas? Plan called cruel and ‘most extreme’ measure so far in 85th Legislature

Dr. Bhavik Kumar prepared a procedure room for a patient at Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Fort Worth, on Feb. 20, 2016.
Dr. Bhavik Kumar prepared a procedure room for a patient at Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Fort Worth, on Feb. 20, 2016. NYT

A Tarrant County lawmaker’s plan to abolish abortion once and for all in Texas has already been dubbed by critics the “most extreme measure” so far in the Legislature this year.

But state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said he is determined to end abortion here and is going to fight for passage of his bill criminalizing the medical procedure in Texas.

“I’m pretty passionate about the pro-life movement,” said Tinderholt, father to a 7-month-old daughter with wife Bethany. “When you read and see how abortions are performed, and how they end the life of an innocent child, it amazes me that we allow that.

“When we look back over history and we see … the cultures that took the lives of children, people are appalled by that,” he said. “People are going to do that with America, too, and look back one day and say they can’t believe we allowed this.”

Tinderholt’s House Bill 948, one of several measures addressing abortion in the Legislature this year, drew a quick response from critics.

“This cruel bill is the most extreme measure we’ve seen at the Texas Legislature,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “It takes away a pregnant person’s legal rights and could open up to investigation and prosecution of anyone who has a miscarriage or who seeks an abortion.

“When politicians criminalize safe medical procedures, they put patients’ health and safety at risk,” she said. “HB948 strips away our constitutional right to abortion.”

Tinderholt’s proposal comes as Republicans in Texas and Tarrant County have also called for an end to abortion.

Abortion has long been a heated topic in Texas as conservative lawmakers have steadily worked to put restrictions on clinics and patients alike, including taking steps to remove groups such as Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program.

Even though many clinics have closed as new restrictions came on, at least two clinics are still open in Fort Worth.

They are the Whole Woman’s Health of Fort Worth, which offers abortions and the abortion pill, and the Planned Parenthood Southwest Fort Worth Health Center, a $6.5 million licensed ambulatory surgical center that was privately funded by North Texas contributors and opened in 2013. The facility is a family planning health center, administrative headquarters and abortion clinic.

Abolishing abortion

Tinderholt’s bill, the “Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act,” would require changes to the Texas Penal Code, removing language that now gives immunity protection to women and doctors for abortion procedures.

“We are taking the exception out of the statutes, which will make abortion murder,” Tinderholt said. “It doesn’t pass the common-sense test.

“It’s a child. It’s a human being,” he said. “God creates these children in his image. How could anyone want to destroy that?”

Protections were left in place for lifesaving procedures if a mother’s life is at risk because of pregnancy complications. But there are no other exceptions, such as for fetal abnormality or rape.

Tinderholt said he is talking to lawmakers in other states about his proposal, asking them to carry similar bills.

And he plans to file a second abortion-related bill soon, but this one will address state-issued health licenses.

“If you have a license through the state and you perform an abortion or work in a place that does, the state will not renew your license,” he said of his other bill.

“Neither of these bills touch Roe v. Wade,” he said. “I”m not saying abortion is illegal. I’m saying we’re removing a statute … and you can’t renew your license in Texas.”

Many abortion-related bills have already been filed in Texas for this session, including House Bill 844, by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, described by some as the top abortion bill this session. This measure is known as the Dismemberment Abortion Ban. It is aimed at stopping abortions in which a fetus is extracted one piece at a time. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed a companion measure, Senate Bill 415.

Other proposals have been filed, addressing issues ranging from health benefit plan coverage for abortions to the waiting period before a physician may perform an abortion.

Resolutions

The first step for these proposals is approval by the Legislature and then a signature from the governor. Any measures that pass may then be taken to courts, where they may or may not find approval.

“As national leadership of the presidency and Congress leans more to the right, state legislators may feel emboldened to shoot for the moon on conservative legislation hoping the courts help them out,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

So Tinderholt and other “will continue take hammer and chisel to chip away at the right to an abortion for as long as their core constituency is fired up by the politics of it,” Rottinghaus said.

“The benefits politically are clear — the conservative, religious base of the Republican Party will rally behind this legislation.”

On Thursday, Tarrant County Republicans passed a resolution calling on state and federal legislators to “eliminate abortion in Texas and our nation,” said Tim O’Hare, chairman of the local GOP.

It will soon be mailed to every member of Congress and the Legislature and top state officials.

“There is nothing more abhorrent in this country than that practice” of abortion, O’Hare said. “The party can’t make law, but it sure can make people know we are serious about this.”

Last year, the Republican Party of Texas made abortion a legislative priority as well.

It approved a plank in the party platform calling on lawmakers to “enact legislation stopping the murder of unborn children; and to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.”

Critics

Democrats were quick to say they plan to fight Tinderholt’s proposal.

“Republicans are attacking our constitutional freedoms once again and showing us who they really are,” said Crystal K. Perkins, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “They believe that if your daughter is raped, she must carry her rapist’s child. They believe that women should be punished for making one of the most consequential decisions of her life.

“We must protect the freedom of women to make difficult choices in consultation with her family and her God — not her government,” she said. “Every Texan deserves respect and their fair shot to get ahead. Democrats will protect Texans’ freedom to make their own decisions. We will not let this bill pass.”

Tinderholt said he realizes his proposal will generate passionate responses on both sides.

“I want people to know I respect all views on these standpoints,” he said. “I may not understand why someone is pro-choice, but I respect their views.

“And I just ask them to respect mine.”

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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