Updates by Julie Lowenberg (Dallas) Women's Health and Reproductive Choice Blog
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that public policy in a pluralistic society must affirm the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices. For more information
Statement of Position on Meeting Basic Human Needs
Preventing and Reducing Poverty; In order to prevent or reduce poverty, the LWVUS supports policies and programs designed to: ... decrease teen pregnancy
Access to Health Care The LWVUS believes that access to health care includes the following:... health and sex education programs...
1983This national position was adopted in 1983. During each succeeding legislative session, bills attempting to place various restrictions on abortions have been introduced. LWV-TX has worked with other pro-choice groups to defeat these measures, initially with great success. But laws enacted in recent sessions severely restrict Texas women's access to meaningful reproductive choices. Also in recent years, pro-choice groups, including LWV-TX, have broadened their focus in this area to include advocacy for women's access to comprehensive reproductive health services and for medically accurate sexuality education. In supporting these initiatives, LWV-TX has relied on the LWVUS position on Meeting Basic Human Needs and its subheads "Preventing and Reducing Poverty" ("LWVUS supports policies and programs designed to decrease teen pregnancy....") and "Access to Health Care" ("LWVUS believes that access to health care includes...health and sex education programs...."). The LWV-TX position on Health Care for Those of Lesser Means also supports advocacy for access to comprehensive reproductive health services.
Following the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Webster V. Reproductive Health Services that gave states increased power to regulate abortion and threatened to overturn Roe v. Wade, pro-choice groups in Texas, including both state and local Leagues, began organizing concerted responses to the escalating calls for restrictive legislation. In 1991, bills attempting to mandate parental notification for teenage abortions and to ban so-called sex-selection abortions were introduced. These measures received a hearing in a House committee, but were never reported out and were not heard in the Senate.
Once again in 1993, several bills were introduced which would have placed various restrictions on reproductive choice (parental involvement, requirements for minors, waiting periods, so- called "informed consent" requirements, etc.) These measures all died in committee, with LWV- TX and other pro-choice groups working successfully behind the scenes to avoid circus- atmosphere hearings.
On a more discouraging note, bills filed in both houses that would have stiffened the penalties for criminal trespass on the premises of health care facilities also died in committee. These measures were introduced following the murder in Florida of Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider, by an anti- choice fanatic. LWV-TX filed testimony in support of the proposals at a House committee hearing.
1995: Pro-choice groups, including the League, faced and surmounted several close calls in the 74th Legislature. As in previous sessions, a number of bills were filed that would have imposed restrictions on reproductive freedom. For the first time, two of these measures were voted out of Senate committees; one would have mandated parental or judicial involvement in a minor's decision to seek an abortion; the other would have classified abortion providers as "ambulatory centers," thereby driving the cost of the procedure beyond the means of most women. At committee hearings, LWV presented testimony in opposition to both bills. Fortunately, neither measure garnered the 21 votes necessary to be voted consideration on the Senate floor. Local Leagues with senators who were "uncommitted" or considered to be "swing" votes in the move to block consideration responded swiftly and effectively to LWV-TX requests to contact these officials and inform them of League opposition to these measures.
1997: The session's major anti-choice legislation (requiring parental involvement in minors' abortions) seemed securely on its way to passage when, on the last weekend, the bill was killed on a Point of Order and reproductive choice was still intact in Texas. Indicating increased legislative opposition to choice, a health insurance bill was passed which contains a clause exempting religiously affiliated HMO's from providing services which conflict with their beliefs and from referring or paying for a member to receive such services from another provider.
1999: After many failed attempts in previous sessions, anti-choice proponents were able to enact a "parental notification bill," vigorously opposed by the League. Under its provisions, a physician performing an abortion on a minor must provide 48 hours notice to a parent. A judicial by-pass was provided as the only alternative to parental notification.
2001: LWV-TX opposed "Injury to a Pregnant Woman" legislation that was introduced. Because the League believes in the right of every woman to safely carry a pregnancy to term, LWV- TX supports legislation enabling women who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy due to deliberate 3rd party misconduct to seek civil remedies and be assured of appropriate criminal prosecution. But the introduced legislation went beyond addressing this important issue and established risky precedents for pregnant women. It is important to note that a nationwide effort was underway by anti-choice organizations to use the issue of "injury" to a pregnant woman to promote their legislative goals and to establish a fetus as s separate, independent entity under law.
2003: Several laws were enacted that further compromise a woman's right to choose:
Anti-choice bills opposed by LWV that died included: mandatory viewing of materials about "fetal pain" prior to obtaining an abortion; "Choose Life" license plates for which fees would have been allocated to so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers; requirement that judges from whom minors seek "judicial bypass" as an alternative to parental notification do not have to keep detailed records and make them available to the public.
2005: Enacted setbacks to choice were in the form of amendments attached to the measure reauthorizing the state Board of Medical Examiners. These amendments mandate parental consent for a minor's abortion (cf. the notification requirement enacted in 1999), and further restrict the already extremely narrow circumstances under which a woman can obtain a legal abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy to cases where the fetus has a severe and irreversible brain impairment or the women risks death or severe and irreversible brain damage or paralysis.
Other setbacks for women's health included two Riders attached to the state budget: One diverted $5 million to "crisis pregnancy centers" whose chief mission is giving misinformation to pregnant women in order to discourage them from having abortions, rather than providing actual health care services. The other Rider diverted $20 million from existing providers (including Planned Parenthood affiliates, medical schools, hospital districts and health departments), displacing over 70,000 low income women currently receiving family planning and other health care services from these entities.
Egregious measures opposed by the League and other pro-choice groups and individuals that met well-deserved oblivion include the so-called "right of refusal" bill that would have enabled pharmacists to refuse to fill or provide referrals for birth control prescriptions; and several measures that would have made it more difficult for a minor to obtain a judicial bypass permitting her to choose an abortion without parental involvement (involvement that will henceforth equal consent under the new law discussed above). The proposed measures targeting the judicial bypass process included restrictions on the venue of such cases, requirement that rulings be collected and published, and raising the standard of proof/level of parental abuse that must be shown.
On the good news front, the Legislature passed the Medicaid Waiver bill, which instructs the Department of Health to apply for a federal waiver that will expand access to preventive health care and family planning services for low-income women, including screening for diabetes, cervical and breast cancer, hypertension and tuberculosis, as well as counseling and education on contraception. Unfortunately, a bad amendment attached to the waiver prohibits waiver funds from going to agencies that perform or "promote" abortions and limits coverage of information about and prescriptions for EC. Another victory was passage of a bill mandating hospitals to implement plans for adequate and comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault, though it regrettably does not mention EC.
Finally, unfortunately, several bills that would have promoted choice and/or women's health died, including provisions for increased access to educational information about EC and other forms of contraception, and removal from the so-called informed consent to abortion law enacted in 2003 the required misinformation that having an abortion increases one's risk of getting breast cancer.
2007: Although there were a couple of close calls; all of the bills filed during the 80th Legislative session that would have imposed additional burdens on Texans seeking abortions and/ or abortions providers died.
The state budget brought both good news and bad news for proponents of women's health and increased access to preventive and reproductive health care. New language was added to the Rider passed by the 79th Legislature in 2005 that diverted $20 million away from proven providers of preventive health care and resulted in 33,000 fewer women receiving family planning services. The new Rider restricted the state health department from implementing the Rider if it would adversely affect the number of women who receive family planning services; however, the "alternatives to abortion" rider enacted by the 79th Legislature remained intact. The provision allows for allocation of $5 million to agencies that provide no medical services and do nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
2009: For better AND worse, "status quo" is an appropriate summation of the 81st Legislative Session in this program area. On the "better" side, no anti-choice bills were passed, thanks in part to unrelated procedural maneuvers. Measures opposed by LWV-TX that came close to passage included those that would have required an ultrasound prior to abortion; that would have authorized Choose Life" license plates whose purchase would fund unregulated, unlicensed pregnancy centers; and that would have placed burdensome new reporting requirements on women seeking and physicians performing abortions, under the guise of protecting women from "coerced" abortions.
On the "worse" side, efforts to improve sex education in public schools and to expand low income women's access to preventive family planning and other health care services were ultimately unsuccessful. Some of these efforts were encompassed in the Education Works bills and the Prevention Works bills strongly supported by LWV-TX. Kudos to Representatives 130
Castro, Villarreal and Strama who tried but failed, during the frantic waning days of the session, to attach amendments to an education-related bill that would have required information taught in sex education courses to be medically accurate.
Also for the "worse," once again, provisions included in the state Budget opposed by LWV-TX impede women's access to preventive health care:
Family planning funds and the Women's Health Program: A budget cut of approximately $62 million from the state family planning program will leave an estimated 200,000 women without access to basic health services. Adding insult to injury, the budget actually includes an increased amount for the "Alternatives to Abortion" program which encourages women in crisis pregnancies to carry to term, often with Medicaid support. "Alternatives to Abortion," which has an $8.3 million budget in the current biennium, provides no medical services, though it does make referrals to other government programs.
Though the Women's Health (Medicaid waiver) Program (WHP) was re-authorized, this was something of a "Pyrrhic victory", first because the loss of family planning funding means that providers will not be able to give preventive care to many of the neediest women during this budget cycle. And then, the renewal application that the state submitted to the federal government effectively excluded Planned Parenthood centers from providing WHP services. (The specious line of reasoning used to justify the exclusion is that the 2005 enabling legislation for the WHP indicated that the state Health and Human Services Commission is prohibited from contracting with agencies affiliated with organizations that provide abortions - and that the Commission has the authority to define "affiliated.")
The federal government responded that excluding qualified providers is a violation of federal law and that funding for the WHP would be withheld if Planned Parenthood were excluded. The state refused to back down and Planned Parenthood then filed a lawsuit against the state Human Services Commission, alleging that it is unconstitutional to block Planned Parenthood from participating in the WHP and depriving women of the right to choose their health care provider. The judge has issued a temporary injunction that allows renewal of the program and Planned.
Parenthood participation pending a full hearing and arguments from both sides. Stay tuned....
Sonogram requirement. As passed and signed into law, Texas now has perhaps the most extreme pre-abortion sonogram requirement law in the country - it mandates that the woman receive a verbal description of the fetal image even if she opts out of viewing it. (Only Oklahoma has a similar provision.) Another especially harmful provision in the law is increased penalties - including possible loss of license - that may be imposed on doctors who violate any part of the "informed consent" process of which the mandatory sonogram is a part.
Further, though a woman may certify that she doesn't wish to view the fetal image, the law actually says that her consent to the medical procedure of an abortion is not informed if she doesn't view the image. This provision could have a further chilling effect on doctors' willingness to perform abortions.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, a national organization, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Austin challenging the constitutionality of the sonogram law and alleging that it violates the First Amendment rights of doctors and patients. The Center described the law as an intrusive and patronizing hijacking of the doctor/patient relationship to promote an anti-choice agenda. The suit was filed on behalf of a plaintiff class of physicians and medical facilities that provide abortions. Unfortunately, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction against enforcement of the law issued by the district judge in the case, prompting the district judge to declare that the appellate court's decision "effectively eviscerated the protections of the first amendment and allows the government to make puppets out of doctors."
"Choose Life" license plates. This new law authorizes the issuance and purchase of "Choose Life" license plates. Proceeds from the purchases will go to "eligible organizations" that give assistance to pregnant women who are considering placing their children for adoption. BUT organizations that provide abortions or abortion-related services or make referrals to abortion providers or are affiliated with such referrers or providers are not "eligible" to receive these funds.
Funding restrictions. Another amendment to SB 7, the special session's omnibus health care bill, effectively bans hospital districts from using local tax revenue to fund abortions - or risk losing state funding. The amendment allows exceptions if the woman's life is in danger or if the fetus has a "severe fetal abnormality," meaning "a life-threatening physical condition ... incompatible with life outside the womb." The measure is clearly aimed at Travis County, whose hospital district is the only one in the state that currently uses tax dollars to pay for elective abortions. But it has been reported that most of those funds come from local taxes and other non-state funds, so the law might not have much "bite."
Reporting requirements Most recently, the State Health Services Council has proposed a rule that would require a woman seeking an abortion to first file a report indicating how many children and how many abortions she has had, her level of education, whether she viewed the required sonogram and, if a minor, whether she obtained a judicial bypass in lieu of parental consent. AND physicians performing the procedure would be required to report on "complications" - though what constitutes a "complication" is unspecified. This proposed regulation, if it goes into effect, will impose requirements that even the most anti-choice legislatures have rejected legislatively. Again, stay tuned....
2013: As the regular session adjourned, LWV-TX and other advocates for reproductive choice and for comprehensive, affordable women's health care briefly rejoiced that:
2. Expanded the state's Community Primary Care program by $100 million to support women's preventive care, including contraceptive care for approximately 100,000 low income women;
3. Added $32.1 million to the Texas Family Planning Program to replace federal Title X grant funds that were awarded to the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas instead of to the state.
As noted by the Texas Women's Healthcare Coalition (of which LWV-TX is a member), the budget was "a critically important step in repairing the tattered women's healthcare safety net [and]...represents important progress toward the goal of access to preventive care for all Texas women." But although this budget included funds for approximately the same number of clients in 2014-2015 as before the big cuts in 2011, "the women's health safety net will take time to rebuild," and many specialized family planning providers (such as Planned Parenthood) with expertise and geographic reach were excluded.
Unfortunately, along with the "death" of the anti-choice bills opposed by LWV during the regular session, all of the pro-choice and pro-women's health measures supported by LWV-TX also died without receiving votes.
In the 1st Special Session that immediately followed the regular one, the governor added "legislation relating to abortion procedures, providers and facilities" to the agenda. And the senate rule that requires a 2/3 vote to consider bills was declared to be inoperative in special sessions, enabling a simple majority to pass bills in the senate. A number of "abortion" bills were filed but the ones that moved were companions SB 5 (Hegar) and HB 60 (Laubenberg) + omnibus measures banning abortion after 20 weeks; requiring all procedures to be performed in a mini-hospital; forcing women to make four trips to a clinic for a drug-induced abortion; and requiring all abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
In spite of impassioned and cogent arguments against SB 5 by LWV-TX and many other others at the Senate Health & Human Services Committee hearing, the bill passed out of the Committee by a 5-2 vote. The Committee Substitute for SB 5 added an exception to the 20-week ban for situations involving "a severe fetal abnormality."
The Senate passed SB 5 (20-10 vote) after an amendment by Sen. Hegar to remove the 20-week ban on abortions was accepted by the majority. All amendments offered by other senators that would alleviate the harmful impact of the bill were rejected. The battleground then moved to the House where the State Affairs Committee scheduled HB 60 and HB 16 (Laubenberg + a stand- alone fetal pain measure banning virtually all abortions after 20 weeks) for hearing. Responding to calls to action by pro-choice and women's health advocates, hundreds of women (estimates as high as 700), including LWV Capitol Corps member Judy Parken with testimony at the ready, registered to be heard. After more than 10 hours of testimony, with hundreds (including LWV) still waiting to be heard, the Committee closed the hearing.
The State Affairs Committee reconvened the next day and quietly approved both HB 60 and its companion bill SB 5, as well as HB 16. But pro-choice advocates were heartened that, with the special session set to end by midnight on June 25, their testimonies had held up the bills for precious hours that might enable senators to filibuster the legislation on its return to the senate for final approval. Texas women's impassioned and eloquent stand against these anti-choice bills began to receive national attention. The marathon testimony in the State Affairs Committee was widely reported and dubbed "the people's filibuster." With the full House set to hear SB 5 and HB 60 on Sunday June 23, hundreds of motivated and mobilized reproductive rights advocates headed for the Capitol, most wearing orange as urged by organizers and many wearing orange T- shirts saying "Stand with Texas Women."
On the House floor, pro-choice representatives, knowing they were outnumbered, adopted the strategy of delaying votes on the bills as long as possible, hoping to forestall their arrival in the Senate where, with the June 25 midnight deadline looming, a filibuster might prevent passage. Filibusters are not an option in the Texas House. Instead, pro-choice House members utilized "chubbing"as a delaying tactic, extending their conversations on the bills for several hours on Sunday afternoon and into the night. Meanwhile, it became clear that anti-choice representatives would focus on passing SB 5. That bill had already passed the Senate, but Senate concurrence was needed on the House change to the bill, i.e., the addition of the "fetal pain" provision. After hours of debate that went on into Monday morning, the House passed SB 5 on a vote of 95-34 with 20 members absent.
As the bill moved back to the Senate for its final approval on Tuesday June 25, activists began arriving early in the Senate gallery. Although the weekday turnout was lower than on Sunday, hundreds of pro-choice activists showed up as the day wore on, bolstered by the presence of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood of America President. Senator Davis began to filibuster against SB 5 at approximately 11 a.m., needing to continue until midnight in order to kill the bill. Filibuster rules prohibit the speaker from eating, drinking, taking bathroom breaks or straying off the subject of the bill. According to Davis' communications director, Davis was acting as the "voice of those people that were basically cut off from presenting their stories and testimony" at the previous hearing.
As afternoon turned into evening, several senators challenged Davis with specious "points of order" + alleging that it was out of order for Davis to accept a back brace from Sen. Ellis as she stood on the floor and, twice, that her remarks had strayed from the subject and were not germane. Unfortunately, the points of order were sustained and as senate rules provide, the filibuster ended on the third ruling, shortly after 10 p.m.
Other pro-choice senators then stalled a vote on the bill with procedural questions until 11:45 p.m. As Sen. Duncan, presiding in place of Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, was about to start the roll call on a procedural vote before the final vote on the bill, Sen. Van de Putte interrupted with a parliamentary inquiry, asking at what point must a female senator raise her voice to be heard by her male colleagues. At that point, the gallery filled with pro-choice supporters erupted in cheers that were taken up and echoed by others standing outside the gallery and all around the Capitol building. Midnight came and went and the bill died amid the cheering and chaos.
Though faced with another special session and another round of anti-abortion proposals and tactics, the experience of the 1st special session was an inspiration and motivation for all champions of reproductive health and rights to stay strong and hang tough. Governor Perry wasted no time in calling a 2nd special session for July 1, with abortion front and center on the agenda. With unabated passion, approximately 5,000 pro-choice supporters, including many LWV members, assembled on the Capitol steps on July 1 to bring their message to legislators.
In the 2nd special session, though many abortion bills were filed, the Legislature focused on SB 1 (Hegar) and HB 2 (Laubenberg) + companion, omnibus measures mandating: prohibition on abortion after 20 weeks; requirements that facilities where abortions are performed meet the standards of "ambulatory surgical centers" and that doctors performing them have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and requirement that physicians administer in-person the two medicines used for drug-induced abortions and see the patient again within 14 days.
Capitol Corps member Grace Chimene brought LWV testimony against HB 2 to a hearing by the House State Affairs Committee on July 2 but was not called to testify before the Committee Chair closed the hearing at midnight; 3,543 persons had signed up to speak but only 100 were heard. The Committee voted (8-3) to send the bill to the full House + which passed it in short order. On July 8, the action shifted to the Senate HHS Committee for a hearing on SB 1, and again Grace Chimene, representing LWV, was among thousands who registered to testify. This time she was able to present the testimony.
Unfortunately, HB 2 ultimately passed both House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Perry on July 18. During floor debate in the Senate, pro-choice senators offered 20 amendments, ranging from proposals to add exceptions to the 20-week abortion ban for victims of rape and incest to requiring annual inspections of abortion facilities. All were rejected. Senator Davis did not try to reprise her heroic filibuster but spoke eloquently against the bill, noting the numbers and passions of citizen opponents who showed up again and again at the Capitol during the special sessions: "The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning." The Texas Tribune reported the chants and cheers from the massive crowd of pro-choice advocates gathered outside of the chamber and also that the audience observing from the gallery remained mostly quiet and orderly throughout the proceedings + in contrast to the closing hours of the 1st Special Session.
The bad news is that Texas now has one of the strictest abortion laws in the U.S. + designed to drastically reduce women's access to safe, legal abortions. The silver lining is that the "sleeping giant" -- the pro-choice majority -- has been awakened and activated. On another hopeful note, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have filed suit in federal court seeking to block the state from implementing the new law because its provisions conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states cannot enact substantial obstacles to women seeking abortion. Stay tuned!
Following their victories in the 2013 legislative session, those who oppose women's access to safe, legal abortions and to comprehensive, affordable and accessible reproductive health care were not content to "rest on their laurels" in 2015. Regretfully, these people worked to restrict access to safe, legal abortions even further, coming up with new, draconian proposals affecting women's health. Given the large number of such bills that were filed and the makeup of the legislature, we can be grateful that most died, along with some good bills supported by LWV. Details below.
Access to Safe, Legal Abortions
Worst bill that passed:
This "omnibus" judicial bypass measure will have an especially adverse impact on vulnerable minors who have been neglected, abused or abandoned. Stay tuned for a probable lawsuit alleging its unconstitutionality. Other bad bill that passed:
Women's Healthcare Safety Net
Budget + the good news:
Comprehensive, Medically Accurate Sexuality Education Although both good and bad bills relating to sexuality education were filed, none passed. However, as noted above, the budget that passed unfortunately contains a stipulation that family planning funds cannot be used for sexuality education or family planning instruction if the instruction is provided by affiliates of abortion providers, i.e., Planned Parenthood.