Texas Ends Both Legislative Sessions with Increased Pro-Life Success
The Texas Legislature concluded its 140-day regular session at the end of May with sensational pro-life successes. The Legislature passed six pro-life bills, continued to fund alternatives to abortion and continued to defund Planned Parenthood. During a special session convened later in the summer, the Legislature passed four more pro-life bills, adding icing to the cake.
For these successes, we are deeply grateful to the pro-life members of the Senate and House. We are especially grateful for the pro-life leaders who made these successes possible — Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus.
Texas Alliance for Life proudly stood arm in arm with legislative leaders to protect the strong pro-life vision of the majority of Texans. We spent time with members of both chambers to help enact strong bills that would make a difference. Ultimately the Legislature passed a record 10 bills, solidifying Texas as a national leader in the fight to save lives.
The TAL Lobby Team and I attended hearings, testified in support of bills, and had numerous meetings throughout the bill movement process. Additionally, there were countless days and late nights when the team spent time in each chamber of the Legislature listening and observing debate on the pro-life bills we were championing.
Following the special session, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick recognized the tremendous achievements of the Texas Legislature. “I don’t know if you can find a legislative body in the history of the country that passed so many pro-life bills in thirty days,” said Patrick in a news conference.
Why a Special Session?
During the regular session, “sunset” legislation which would continue the existence of the state agency regulating physicians did not advance in the legislative process in order to be passed. Tens of thousands of physicians would soon be unable to practice medicine. Several other state agencies were about to go out of existence as well. In response, Governor Greg Abbott called a special session that convened on July 18 to pass the “sunset” bills but also included several other subjects, including four “life” issues.
Upon the conclusion of the special session, the Legislature passed an additional four pro-life bills. Gov. Abbott quickly signed them all into law. Texas Alliance for Life strongly supported each of these pro-life bills.
Here is a summary of the pro-life successes accomplished in the special session:
- Improved Abortion Complication Reporting
Evidence suggests that current requirements are insufficient and abortion providers have underreported complications. For example, in 2015 only 25 complications were reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services from 53,000 abortions, a 0.05% complication rate. In Texas, nearly all abortions are performed outside of hospitals. By comparison Finland, where all abortions are performed in hospitals, has a 5%-20% reported complication rate. This raises the concern that Texas has an abortion reporting problem. Through HB 13 Texas will now have more accurate data regarding complications from abortion. The data will be used to protect the health and safety of Texas women.
- Pro-Life Insurance Reform
HB 214 by Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) and Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) removes mandatory coverage for elective abortion from health insurance plans ─ regardless of whether it is a government plan or a private plan. No one should be forced to pay for abortion through his or her health insurance plan or taxes. The bill allows optional elective abortion coverage through the purchase of a separate plan.
- Increased Reporting for Abortions on Minors
HB 215 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) and Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) requires a physician performing an abortion on a minor girl to report how consent for the abortion was obtained. Texas will now know whether consent is obtained by parental consent or by a court order through the judicial bypass process.
- Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Reform
SB 11 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) requires a physician to obtain the consent of a patient or the patient’s designee/surrogate before issuing a DNR order. At the suggestion of Texas Alliance for Life, a provision was added to specifically require a surrogate to be notified before the DNR is issued, regardless of whether the surrogate is present in the hospital. We patterned the notification provision from a 2013 bill (SB 303) that unfortunately did not become part of the law.
Special thanks go to the chairs of the committees that voted out these bills: Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) and Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) and Rep. Byron Cook(R-Corsicana).
The Legislative Process
Passing pro-life bills is not an easy task. The Texas Senate rules present a unique set of circumstances for Lt. Gov. Patrick. Patrick is a staunch pro-lifer, and through strong Senate rules he has the ability to select all members of Senate committees (by which all bills must be approved) and each committee chairperson. This affords him the unique ability to oversee the flow of bills to the Senate floor with the approval of 3/5 (19 of 31) of the senators. That is easily achievable given there are reliably at least 21 pro-life votes. Patrick masterfully steered five pro-life bills through the Senate to passage in a matter of a few days.
Passing pro-life bills in the House is more challenging. The House rules give pro-life Speaker Joe Straus far less control over the flow of bills. Committees are comprised of a combination of factors such as selection by the Speaker as well as level of seniority. Pro-life membership on the floor is less than the two-thirds supermajority required to suspend most House rules. The pro-abortion minority (~53 of 150 members) can bring passage of bills to a halt by breaking a quorum. The minority was able to accomplish this standstill in 2003. The Texas House and Speaker of the House also face having to work with a minority who can endlessly debate and “use up the clock” ─ effectively killing all bills. It doesn’t take the pro-abortion minority to accomplish this. In May, a small number of unprincipled House members killed more than 100 bills in one night. Four of those bills were pro-life goals of Texas Alliance for Life.
We Still Have Work To-Do
Even with the substantial successes of 2017, Texas still has work to complete. Texas Alliance for Life’s goal of complete protection of unborn babies from abortion cannot be within reach until more justices are added to the Supreme Court who will allow states to ban abortion.
In the meantime, two bills that were not passed in either the regular or special sessions are already identified by TAL to be future legislative goals. Texas needs a ban on “wrongful birth” lawsuits and a ban on government contracts with abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. Texas Alliance for Life has begun the work to ensure that the next regular session in 2019 is as successful as the sessions in 2017. We will keep you updated throughout the interim (time between legislative sessions) on progress of ideas for the next slate of pro-life legislation.
Take a look at our TAL video updates from the Special Legislative Session by clicking here.
For a full overview of the accomplishments during the Regular Session click here.