Texas Advocates Turns to Courts, Elections as Antiabortion Bill Nears Governor's Signature

July 15, 2013 — As a sweeping antiabortion-rights measure (HB 2) heads to Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) for approval, opponents are shifting focus to challenging the measure in court and trying to win state elections, the AP/Boston Globe reports (Tomlinson/Weissert, AP/Boston Globe, 7/13). Perry is expected to sign the bill, which would take effect Aug. 1 (Eilperin, Washington Post, 7/13).

The measure includes four abortion regulations that failed to progress in either chamber of the Legislature during the regular session: a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a woman's life is in danger, a requirement that abortions be performed at an ambulatory surgical center, a mandate that physicians administer medication abortion drugs in person and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/11).

Meeting for a special session, the state Senate approved the bill 19-11 late Friday evening after lawmakers rejected 20 Democratic amendments in party-line votes (Smith et al., Texas Tribune, 7/13).

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) -- whose filibuster helped block the legislation during an earlier special session -- told a crowd of about 2,000 protesters outside at the Texas Capitol, "Let's make sure that tonight is not an ending point, it's a beginning point for our future, our collective futures, as we work to take this state back."

Perry in a statement said, "Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life." He added, "This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health" (AP/Boston Globe, 7/13).

Opponents Plan Legal Action

Opponents of the legislation are preparing to fight the measure in court, NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday" reports.

Julie Rikelman -- litigation director for the Center of Reproductive Rights -- said the bill "can absolutely be stopped." She called the Texas measure "a cocktail of restrictions that have been blocked by other courts around the country," adding, "It's clearly unconstitutional and I do believe that courts will find it to be unconstitutional if it's challenged" (Burnett, "Weekend Edition Saturday," NPR, 7/13).

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said, "We believe provisions of this bill are unconstitutional," adding that her organization is "evaluating litigation options." She pledged to "take appropriate steps to prevent these provisions from taking effect and endangering the health of women in Texas" (Eilperin, Washington Post, 7/13).

The American Civil Liberties Union also is looking at litigation "very seriously," according to Jennifer Dalven, director of ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project (Porter, Wall Street Journal, 7/14).

However, Joe Pojman -- executive director of Texas Alliance of Life -- said the bill could survive a court challenge in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, even though other courts have struck down similar provisions in other states. He explained, "In Texas, we have had a very good track record of our abortion regulations and limits being reviewed and upheld by the 5th Circuit" ("Weekend Edition Saturday," NPR, 7/13).

According to the Washington Post, the bill contains a severability clause, which means that if a provision is struck down the other portions can remain in effect (Weiner, Washington Post, 7/13).

Opponents Look Forward to Next Elections

Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Tanene Allison said the party hopes to translate the energy around the bill's passage into a political boost in the 2014 election cycle (Kelly, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/13). Abortion-rights groups on Saturday launched a voter mobilization effort and pledged to target politicians across the nation who voted for abortion restrictions (Eilperin, Washington Post, 7/13).

Richards said, "What happened [in Texas] is going to fast-forward change in Texas in the long run, but unfortunately a lot of women will suffer in the process" (MacLaggan, Reuters, 7/13).

Planned Parenthood Action Fund Vice President Dawn Laguens said that given the size of Texas' voter base, "[i]f they started to vote, things are going to change" (Weiner, Washington Post, 7/13).

Despite the enthusiasm, Texas Democrats still "face a daunting challenge in trying to win the governorship" in 2014, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, Texas Democrats are going to have "to walk a tightrope" between distancing themselves from President Obama to appeal to conservative voters and not alienating those in their base who might favor Obama. At the same time, they need to maintain momentum among local activists and national donors "without setting them up for a let down," the Times reports.

Meanwhile, Davis -- whose supporters are urging a run for governor -- has declined to state her plans (Martin/Schwartz, New York Times, 7/12).

Sen. Davis Criticizes Bill, GOP in CNN Opinion Piece

"I stood up and began talking on the floor of the Texas State Senate not long ago because I hoped the Republicans in power would listen to how their latest cruel health care proposal would hurt the women of Texas," Davis writes in an opinion piece for CNN. The bill "would take away access to the most fundamental form of health care women need" and leave "only five clinics remaining to serve thousands and thousands of women" in the state, she adds.

Davis argues that Republicans in the state have cast aside other "important issues," such as expanding health care, cutting the state's education budget and an "equal pay for equal work bill" that Democrats are trying to pass. She adds, "I have a question for Perry and the state's powerful politicians who have ignored real Texans for so long: Can you hear us now? And, more important, are you listening?" (Davis, CNN, 7/12).