The Austin Chronicle

GOP Targets Women's Health, LGBTQ Community in First Day of Lege Filing

By Mary Tuma, November 14, 2016, 5:45pm, Newsdesk

Wasting no time, Texas legislators filed three abortion-restrictive bills and the first anti-LGBTQ piece of legislation this filing period, assuring another heated fight for pro-choice advocates and LGBTQ allies beginning Jan. 10, the first day of the 2017 legislative session.

In the start of a likely avalanche of anti-choice legislation, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, has introduced the bill version of the proposed Health and Human Services Commission rule that forces women to cremate or bury their fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage. House Bill 201 would impose penalties on providers if they don’t follow the draconian rule, including a fine of up to $1,000 and the threat of license revocation. Reproductive health advocates have slammed the rule as another ideologically-motivated impediment to abortion access and flat-out unconstitutional during a series of public hearings.

Another bill, HB 87 presented by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, would remove the current exception allowing women with severe, irreversible fetal abnormalities to obtain abortion care. (Abortion is illegal at 20 weeks of pregnancy, as imposed by the remaining parts of HB 2.) Schaefer also proposed a bill to increase the reporting frequency at abortion facilities. Lawmakers are clearly undeterred by the smackdown delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas-based Whole Woman’s Health case, which reinforces that women’s health laws must be backed by science and medical necessity – but how far the bills go in light of the ruling remains to be seen.

On the anti-LGBTQ front, Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, proposed Senate Bill 92, a bill that would prevent a city, county, or political subdivision from adopting or enforcing anti-discriminatory protections “on a basis not contained in the laws of this state.” (Texas law offers no protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.) Further, Hall’s bill would repeal local ordinances already in effect. Hall’s bill is sure to be one of many anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation: Stay tuned for the anticipated and misleading “Women’s Privacy Act.” Touted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill would prevent transgender residents from using the facilities that align with their gender identity. The anti-LGBTQ act stands as Item 6 in Patrick’s Top 10 priorities of the legislative session list, released today. The fetal tissue law and a ban on partial-birth abortion come in at No. 8.

During a Monday afternoon press conference at the Capitol, Texas Democrats laid out their priorities for the upcoming session, which include investments in public education, health care, infrastructure, criminal justice reform, foster care reform, increased voter participation, and cyberbullying protections. While sticking to largely non-controversial measures, Democrats, when asked, also addressed the inevitable onslaught of ideological bills targeting the gay community and Texas women.

“Bills designed to embarrass transgender Texans are social bills that only serve to divide us when we should be working together,” Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, a member of the LBGTQ community, said of potential anti-trans legislation. “I’m hopeful we can make a business case.”

Women’s health advocate, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, filed legislation today that would exempt sales tax from the purchase of feminine hygiene products (known as the “tampon tax”) and a bill that seeks to reduce high teen pregnancy rates by allowing birth control coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Plan.

“We’re prepared to do what we need to do to prevent the continuing erosion of women having control of their own bodies and making decisions about their own families,” said Howard. “The fact we would have further obstacles [to this] is not something we’re going to sit back and watch happen. We are going to do whatever we can to insert evidence-based policy making that respects the rights of all Texans.”

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