If identification is needed for voting, then it also should be needed for obtaining an abortion—at least that’s the implication of HB 3994 by Representative Geanie Morrison of Victoria.
Under Morrison’s bill, “a physician shall presume that a pregnant woman is a minor unless the woman presents a valid government record of identification showing that she has reached the age of majority.” The age of majority is defined as 18, but the bill doesn’t give a doctor the leeway to say a 30-year-old woman looks like a 30-year-old woman. The doctor has to presume the woman is an under-age minor.
The bill has been filed but not referred to a House committee. Usually I’m loath to write about filed bills because most go nowhere. In the 2013 session, just 732 of the 3,950 bills filed in the House passed. But Morrison’s legislation, as part of a 10-bill package by the “pro-life” movement, has the potential to become the sleeper bill that prompts an end of the session filibuster.
At a news conference this week, Morrison described her bill as “judicial bypass reform.” My definition: Reform, noun, make more difficult the process for a minor to receive a judicially authorized abortion without notifying or obtaining the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian. A pregnant minor will have to appear in court by person, not by videoconferencing or telephone conferencing. A judge currently only has to decide by the “preponderance” of evidence that an abortion is in the child’s best interest, but if the bill becomes law, the evidence will have to be “clear and convincing.” Judicial bypass often is used in cases of sexual abuse. A similar bill died in 2013.
What is really unique about Morrison’s bill is its presumption that all women seeking abortions are minors unless they can prove otherwise with a government-issued identification. The court fights over voter identification found more than 600,000 registered voters lacked the identification needed to vote. While this number was not broken down by gender, if we assume a 50-50 split, that means about 300,000 Texas women would not be able to prove they were an adult able to obtain an abortion without the consent of a parent or a judicial bypass. And I don’t even have a way to calculate what it means among the 4.8 million voting age Texans who have not registered.
Women packed the Capitol in 2013 for former Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster against an abortion restrictions bill, prompting her campaign for governor. And House Democrats in 2009 chubbed hundreds of bills to death to block passage of a voter identification bill. In both cases, the conservative legislation became law, but not without a bitter, divisive and protracted fight. Now, in a single bill, both issues seem to have come together.
One thing is certain: Every time Texas swirls twice around the sun, the Legislature will meet and abortion will be on the agenda.
Already this session, we’ve had the incident in which Representative Jonathan Stickland put a sign on his door provided by Texas Right to Life that proclaimed him as a former fetus. House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren removed—according to Stickland tore down—the sign as a violation of State Preservation Board rules (the Preservation Board oversees maintenance of the Capitol). Interestingly, Geren was at this week’s news conference posing for pictures with leaders of the Texas Alliance for Life, the Texas Catholic Conference and the Texans for Life Committee. Stickland was not among those presenting bills. However, that may have as much to do with House speaker politics as it does with abortion.
Aside from posters in the hallway, lawmakers already have started debating the defunding of cancer screening at clinics run by Planned Parenthood. Republican Representative Sarah Davis gained national attention last week when she said “women will die” if state funding is cut to Planned Parenthood. In 2013, Davis was the only House Republican to vote against the abortion restrictions legislation that Wendy Davis, no relation, filibustered in the Senate. My former colleague Lisa Falkenberg wrote an interesting profile of Davis, available to subscribers of the Houston Chronicle, that delves into why Davis’s upscale Houston district opposes limiting abortions. Other Republicans counter by saying there is plenty of state money being spent on cancer screenings for women without having to fund Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services.
I won’t go through all the bills presented at this week’s anti-abortion news conference, but the list of bills can be found here. Here’s my analysis of a few of them.
HB 416 by Debbie Riddle would require persons employed by facilities that perform abortions to take training on how to spot illegal human trafficking. At first blush, this seems like a good bill. As Mimi Swartz noted in Texas Monthly several years ago, most of the human sex slave trafficking in Texas is young women brought into the country illegally and then kept prisoner as prostitutes. If the pimps bring these women into a facility for an abortion, a trained worker might help them escape. Equally likely, once the pimps learn that the facility workers are taking action, the pimps will turn from medical facilities to back-room abortions. Riddle’s bill addresses a real problem, but it may endanger more lives than it saves.
HB 1218 by Representative Giovanni Caprigione would require course content for public school human sexuality instruction to teach that life begins at conception. The belief that life begins at conception is a cornerstone and an article of faith of the anti-abortion movement because it makes any abortion morally reprehensible. However, philosophers have debated the concept of ensoulment since at least the days of the ancient Greeks, and even the early Christians did not adopt the life-begins-at-conception philosophy until the 1500s. The House apparently wants to settle a 2,500-year-old argument by law.
HB 2924 by Brooks Landgraf would require state health officials to develop materials for expectant parents and the parents of children born with Down syndrome that includes information for treatment. Many expectant mothers, especially ones in their 30s, undergo prenatal tests to determine whether their baby has the chromosome problem that causes Down syndrome. A positive test result often prompts an abortion. Landgraf’s Down syndrome education bill specifically bars the material from “explicitly or implicitly presenting pregnancy termination as an option when a prenatal test indicates that the unborn child has Down syndrome or any other health condition.”
While not an abortion bill, HB 3074 by Drew Springer renews the debate that surrounded the death of Terri Schiavo in Florida in 2005 after a fifteen-year life support battle. Springer’s bill would forbid the removal of feeding tubes or hydration to maintain the life of an unconscious person unless their advanced directive specifically stated otherwise. While the Terri Schiavo cases are the extreme, this bill could affect average Texans who have a loved-one dying of cancer or an elderly parent with dementia. The end of these individuals often is brought on by dehydration while unconscious. The bill could have a dramatic affect on hospice care where artificial nutrition and hydration are sometimes withheld.
Imagine an elderly parent whose mind has lost touch with reality. They fall into a coma. There is no advanced directive. Do you let them slip away, or do you order intravenous fluids? If this bill moves forward, it could become one of the most hotly contested of the session, though this is a topic most people don’t want to think about until they have no other option.