New Campaign Keeps Up Pro-Choice Fight

Coalition of groups unveil multiyear repro health policy effort

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, discusses her recently filed doctor-patient protection bill. Lawmakers and advocates announced a new reproductive health policy campaign to combat anti-choice laws and restore women's health care access at the Capitol Thursday.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, discusses her recently filed doctor-patient protection bill. Lawmakers and advocates announced a new reproductive health policy campaign to combat anti-choice laws and restore women's health care access at the Capitol Thursday. (by Photo by Mary Tuma)

Despite having the odds stacked against them, at the state Capitol on Thursday morning, Democratic lawmakers vowed to keep fighting for pro-choice laws this legislative session.

The message came during the unveiling of a new multiyear policy campaign coordinated by seven organizations – the ACLU of Texas, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Texas Research Institute, Texas Freedom Network, and Whole Woman’s Health, which are battling to halt the final provision of Texas anti-abortion law House Bill 2 in court. Dubbed “Trust. Respect. Access,” the approach is three-pronged – the coalition plans to ensure women are able to make their own reproductive health care decisions, including timing and spacing of children; make certain health care professionals’ medical judgment is valued; and guarantee access to safe, timely abortion care for Texas women. The aim is to introduce bills to reverse or alleviate the damage caused by anti-choice laws, educate the public, and hold lawmakers accountable for the promises that they make, said Fatimah Gifford of Whole Woman’s Health.

To kick off the campaign, reps took the opportunity to introduce their individual legislation, taken together as a package meant to restore and improve reproductive health care moving forward. So what’s in the arsenal thus far? Austin Rep. Donna Howard’s HB 1210 prevents physicians from being penalized for refusing to comply with certain abortion-related directives, including providing inaccurate or inappropriate information. (Like the medically questionable state-approved "Woman’s Right to Know" pamphlet that links abortion to breast cancer – given to abortion patients.) “We’ve seen repeated instances of Texas lawmakers inserting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship,” said Howard, a former registered nurse. “… I spoke with numerous doctors who mentioned they were having to choose between their best medical judgment and the directives that were forced onto them by legislators. Politics should never take precedence over medical judgment and certainly not when the health and safety of a mother is at risk.”

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, re-introduced a bill (HB 709) that would repeal the requirement forcing women to wait 24 hours before undergoing an abortion. The additional trip to the abortion clinic (one for the state-mandated sonogram and another 24 hours later for the procedure) imposes physical, emotional, and financial hardships and is especially burdensome for low-income and rural women, she said. This is Farrar’s second shot at the bill; she introduced similar legislation in 2013, but it stalled in committee. “This waiting period has proven to be ineffective, unnecessary, and cruel,” said Farrar, who noted the increased negative impact today as fewer and fewer abortion clinics remain open as result of HB 2, widening the distance between women and providers. And Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, highlighted her House Bill 78 (co-authored by Howard), which seeks to improve sexual education in Texas public schools, an effort to help prevent unintended pregnancies by providing students with medically accurate and evidence-based facts.

Dinorah Martinez, a South Texas community health worker with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health said onerous reproductive health laws have gravely impacted the women she sees on a daily basis. Deep state budget cuts to family planning have created a “human rights crisis” in the Rio Grande Valley, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Nearly 30% of state-funded family-planning clinics (or nine out of 32 clinics) in the lower RGV were forced to shut down while others drastically reduced hours and diminished services. “We are tired of funding cuts, we are tired of clinic closures, we are tired from suffering from diseases that are completely preventable,” said Martinez. “… To Texas legislators I say: Stop interfering with our human rights, stop putting off our health care, stop endangering our families.”

With anti-choice measures already creeping up, including proposals to make judicial bypass more difficult and defund cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, pro-choice lawmakers are under no grand delusion they’re facing an easy road. They appeared hopeful, but realistic in the face of a GOP majority. “We are limited because we are so outnumbered by 2-1, Republicans to Democrats, so it’s logistically difficult,” said Farrar. “So what we do is take the argument to the people and hope they make better decisions about who they vote for.” Optimistically projecting a similar outpouring of activism as the historic 2013 "citizens filibuster" rallies, Farrar said the most dangerous outcome would be to not make noise amid the attempts at reproductive health destruction. “The worst thing that could happen is for all of us to be silent,” she said.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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84th Legislature, reproductive rights

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