News Roundup: Anti-Choice Work Is Never Done

Ken Paxton is an anti-abortnik

Occupy Austin's
Occupy Austin's "Final" General Assembly at City Hall on October 6, 2015 (Photo by John Anderson)

In this week's News Roundup: The legal system hates Ken Paxton and Ken Paxton hates Planned Parenthood; a UT alum hits on an amusing way to protest campus carry; and a disturbing sexual assault case highlights the need to regulate private transport.

"Let's be just like Russia," said the conservatives: Attorney General Ken Paxton has offered up a bullet-point list of recommendations to further restrict abortion access for Texas women. In a letter dated Oct. 7, addressed to equally anti-choice Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Paxton writes that before the next legislative session the lite guv should consider regulations that protect "unborn babies." Among his recs: Assessing if it's a good idea to ban abortion under 20 weeks of pregnancy as in "much of Europe and Russia." (In Russia, abortion is outlawed after 12 weeks of pregnancy and abortion clinics are legally restricted from describing the medical procedure as safe.) He then goes on to redundantly request actions that are already law, such as banning the use of taxpayer dollars for abortion. The letter, which also calls for increased penalties on abortion providers including "closure orders," is clearly inspired by the dubious, selectively edited Planned Parenthood videos that surfaced this summer. Paxton has ordered a civil and criminal investigation into the local affiliate (currently ongoing), despite the fact they do not participate in fetal tissue donation programs. But considering he's facing a trio of felony indictments, perhaps this isn't the best time for the AG to be doling out legal advice. – Mary Tuma

A 34-year-old was arrested Friday night for sexually assaulting a woman who'd accepted his offer to provide her a paid ride away from the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Ahmed Al-Surky was arrested after being pulled over for failing to use a turn signal on West 35th Street, just west of the MoPac Highway. Al-Surky first pulled over into a parking lot, but then pulled a U-turn and drove back out onto 35th Street, only to stop four blocks later. When police came over to his Honda, a woman got out of the backseat. She was crying, and told officers that Al-Surky had stopped his car midway through the trip and climbed into the back seat, where he sexually assaulted her. Police found the woman's underwear in one of Al-Surky's pockets. Al-Surky was operating independent of Uber, Lyft, or any of the city's three taxi cab franchises. He told police that he offered riders trips for a discounted price. He also told police that the phone he was using to read directions broke and he got lost. He's currently being held at Travis County Jail on a bond amount of $75,000.

While Al-Surky was providing taxi service outside the purview of any acknowledged transport service, the episode does provide an example of why the city can never be too safe with accountability in private transport. City Council's in the process of considering certain safety provisions. On Wednesday, the Mobility Committee met to begin hashing out how it will regulate background checks and security measures for drivers of transportation network companies. Among those changes is the implementation of fingerprint requirements. Fingerprinting is something that's required of all city taxicab drivers, but representatives from Uber and Lyft were adamant that the change would prove legitimately detrimental to both their companies business plans. While it's somewhat of a nuisance to send new drivers to a fingerprinting center before they pick up their first fare, the explanations presented by both representatives failed to provide any logic outside of the monetary scope.

Uber and Lyft's dissension to the fingerprinting proposal – as well as their problems with the proposed regulation requiring that both companies pay either a $450-per-car annual fee (something cab companies must do) or 2% of the company's gross revenue for that year – allowed Wednesday's conversation to meander into the rhetoric of the two companies threatening to leave town. Both said that the regulations would make it difficult for them to operate their business properly. Mobility Committee chairperson Ann Kitchen did not seem so sympathetic to their concerns, however, stressing that she doesn’t plan to budge much on the expectation that both companies comply with the requirement.

"To threaten to leave simply because we’re trying to promote public safety cannot be our deciding factor," she said. – Chase Hoffberger

Recent UT grad Jessica Jin drew national attention to Texas imminent campus carry law (it goes into effect Aug. 1, 2016) this weekend after she created a Facebook event entitled "Campus (Dildo) Carry," writing on the event's page, "Starting on the first day of Long Session classes on August 24, 2016, we are strapping gigantic swinging dildos to our backpacks in protest of campus carry. ANYBODY can participate in solidarity: alum, non-UT students, people outside of Texas. Come one dildo, come all dildos." As of Monday morning, the event had over 4,000 people signed up to attend. For more on that story, see "Trending: #CocksNotGlocks," Oct. 12 – Amy Kamp

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