The internecine struggle for control of the Republic Party of Texas took an unusual turn last week when the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops—the leaders of every Catholic diocese in the state—issued an advisory urging parishioners to boycott the much more aggressive anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life. In a letter, the bishops accused Texas Right to Life of dishonestly rating state legislators: “We urge parishes not to participate in their activities or allow the organization to use parish sites.”
On one level, the exchange can be read as part of the debate within the anti-abortion movement over incrementalism versus absolutism. On a different level, it’s yet another front in the fight for control over the Texas House—will fundamentalist Protestant social conservatives pry power from the hands of pragmatic, business-oriented conservatives?
As I recently noted, 95 percent of Texas Right to Life’s political funding has come from just four families, all in the oil business and all pushing fundamentalist Protestant social policies. These families also are heavily invested in Empower Texans, another group that prizes purity over pragmatism. The ultimate goal of social conservatives is to push through private school vouchers, restrictions on gay rights, and implement spending caps on the finances of local governments and school districts. The primary financiers of the project are CrownQuest Operating CEO Tim Dunn of Midland and the Wilks family, fracking billionaires from Cisco.
Texas Right to Life responded this weekend with a statement that all but accused the Conference of Bishops of engaging in the politics of the Texas House. “One of the goals of this upcoming Republican primary election is to defeat a few more of the liberal House leadership and those with ties to the Austin establishment,” the statement said. “In doing so, Texas Right to Life has endorsed challengers and incumbents who are committed to new leadership in the Texas House—leadership that will help Texas regain our rightful place in top national Pro-Life rankings and who will not cater to the Austin lobby interests.”
Officially, Texas Right to Life considers itself an organization devoted to incremental change, but it also supports legislation that would ban abortions involving rape or incest, a position generally considered absolutist. So long as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade stands, Texas Right to Life can afford to oppose even some incumbents to whom they had given perfect scores in previous legislative sessions.
For their part, the bishops said they have had to publicly correct Texas Right to Life’s “misstatements on end-of-life care and advance directives,” saying the group had implied that “legislation the bishops were supporting allowed euthanasia and death panels.” The Texas Right to Life voter guide, the bishops added, is designed to mislead voters: “Unfortunately, a number of legislators who have consistently voted for pro-life and end of life legislation have been opposed by Texas Right to Life.”
This is not the first time anti-abortion activists have criticized Texas Right to Life for “scamming” the voters. At the end of last year’s legislative session, Kyleen Wright, the head of rival pro-life group Texans for Life, accused Texas Right to Life of making “false and misleading” statements.
“It is exceedingly rare for Texans for Life to call out a fellow pro-life group, testify against other group’s pro-life bills, or attack them publicly, but enough is enough,” Wright wrote. “We are about improving pro-life policy, education, and legislation, not eating our own,” Wright wrote. “Similarly, you will find that, unlike others, we do not lob gratuitous or false attacks against lawmakers or use our issue as a weapon during the election cycle.”
In a previous piece, I noted that Texas Right to Life is opposing four incumbent House Republicans even though they gave them a perfect “pro-life” score in the 2017 Legislature. A deeper look shows Texas Right to Life is opposing a total of 14 incumbent House Republicans, including two who might become candidates to replace retiring Speaker Joe Straus: Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Four Price of Amarillo. Geren was the subject of a misleading Empower Texans mailing last week. None of the Republicans who are targets are in the House Freedom Caucus, an ultra-conservative group of legislators.
What a strange election this has become: social conservatives versus business conservatives; educators versus social conservatives; and, now, anti-abortion activists versus anti-abortion activists. What is certain is that the social conservative faction of the Republican Party has adopted a win-at-any-cost strategy in this intra-party war.