Cynthia M. Allen

Texas still struggles with rights of unborn

There’s a good chance the Unborn Child Due Process Act, House Bill 1901, filed last week by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, will not get a committee hearing during this session of the Legislature.

With hundreds of other pressing issues facing legislators in Austin, it would be hard to push for a law that would apply in only rare and unfortunate circumstances.

And the proposal’s diminished chances of passage will no doubt delight its critics, who have called the bill, which would require the state to appoint an attorney to represent the interests of an unborn child whose mother is unconscious or unresponsive, “a dangerous legal precedent.”

Such a critique is a typical hair-on-fire response from proponents of abortion rights who see any attempt to advocate on behalf of the unborn as a gross government intervention into the lives and bodies of women, instead of an earnest attempt to balance the rights of both mother and child.

Still, few residents of North Texas will forget the tragic case that inspired Krause’s legislation.

Marlise Muñoz, a young and vibrant woman from Haltom City, was found unresponsive in her home after suffering a blood clot in November 2013.

Although emergency medical professionals could not revive her, Muñoz was kept on life support at John Peter Smith Hospital because she was pregnant. JPS officials were complying with a 1999 Texas law designed to give patients and their families broader powers when making painful end-of-life decisions — notwithstanding an exception that prohibits the removal of life support when a patient is pregnant.

Muñoz’s family went to court with the hospital to have life support removed, an outcome they believed would fulfill her own wishes.

After a protracted and painful legal battle, a judge ordered the hospital to comply with the family’s request and the life-sustaining machines were removed, punctuating the heartbreaking story with an equally lamentable conclusion.

No one can begrudge the members of Muñoz’s family the desire to end their suffering. Few things in life can be more painful than watching a loved one waste away and feeling helpless to stop it.

But while her body ceased to function on its own, the child within Muñoz still possessed a beating heart. In the eyes of many observers, that child deserved an advocate, which is exactly what Krause’s bill would ensure.

According to Krause, HB1901 doesn’t force a family to go to court. Nor does it guarantee a particular outcome. “It only ensures that an unborn child’s voice is heard.”

To many of the bill’s opponents, Krause’s proposal would diminish the rights of family members to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. But since when does safeguarding the rights of one individual reduce those of another?

And absent a mother’s ability to decide and declare whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, isn’t the state right to err on the side of supporting the little heart that still beats inside her, regardless of its condition?

I’d like to think so.

Whether or not he intended it to be, Krause’s plainly wrought proposal is a reflection of the persistent uneasiness that tugs at the hearts of many Americans — Texans in particular — when it comes to laws that seek to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Decades after the highest court in the land issued a supposedly definitive decision on the rights of women and the unborn, the debate not only continues but has also become a ubiquitous fixture of contemporary politics.

That’s at least in part because large — and growing — swaths of the population are increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that unborn children do not warrant any legal protections.

Krause’s legislation suggests that they do. And his bill is worth consideration.

Cynthia M. Allen is a Star-Telegram editorial writer/columnist. 817-390-7166.

Twitter: @cjmallen12