Bill of the Week

Legislator wants lawyers for "the unborn"

Bill of the Week

HB 1901

Author: Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth

Filed: Feb. 25, 2015

Anti-choice lawmakers often seem more adept at prioritizing unborn life over actual life, but this newly filed legislation takes that mission to a whole new level. Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, has proposed appointing an attorney for the fetus of brain-dead, hospitalized pregnant women to "represent the unborn child's interests."

Krause's HB 1901 was inspired by the high-profile case of Marlise Muñoz, a woman left on life support by her Fort Worth hospital against her family's wishes. After an emotional legal battle, the family secured an order from a state district judge that allowed them to discontinue the use of a ventilator after two months, finding that she was legally deceased.

"The intent of the bill is not to second-guess or diminish these incredibly hard decisions that the family had to make in that instance, but it brought up an area of weakness of the law – there was nobody in court that day to give representation or a voice to the unborn child," Krause told the Chronicle. "We saw no real evidence or time spent on the health or development of the child or if she would be able to live a normal, healthy life."

The Dallas Morning News reports that Muñoz's family not only opposes Krause's bill but feels insulted by it, and vows to actively testify against it. "To me that's saying that my family was not looking out for the best interest of Marlise and the fetus," her mother told the daily.

Krause acknowledges the grieving family's opposition – and readily admits to not being "a medical expert" – but remains steadfast in pushing for its passage. "I understand they may have hesitations – they lived through it, they've got a unique first-hand account. It doesn't necessarily surprise me that they're against it and I show them great deference and their opinion much respect," he said. "But at the end of the day, I think it's good public policy for Texas in terms of encouraging sanctity of life."

HB 1901 would also be a setback for civil liberties and reproductive health groups that have been trying to widen the rights of pregnant women, who currently cannot make their own end-of-life decisions under Texas law. The Texas Directives Act holds that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment" from a pregnant patient without a judge's order. Krause's bill would amend that so that even if it appears that the mother is brain-dead, as long as the unborn child is "maturing and developing," life-sustaining treatment may not be removed.

"Texas law already treats pregnant women as second-class citizens, depriving them of the right to decide for themselves whether they want end-of-life medical interventions," said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the Texas ACLU in an email. As it is, the Directives Act is being harshly applied by medical providers, fearful of the anti-choice establishment, said Susan Hays, legislative counsel with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, and Krause's bill would only complicate matters. "There is a great hostility toward anything that looks like abortion, so hospitals are overinterpreting the law because they are afraid; there is an intense chilling effect."

Calling the new bill a "callous response" to the Muñoz family's personal tragedy, Robertson said it should be squarely up to the woman's family to decide her fate. "This bill imposes yet more intrusive requirements by inserting the state attorney general and outside lawyers into the medical decision-making," said Robertson. "If Marlise Muñoz's tragic example teaches us anything, it is that no one is in a better position to decide what is best in these situations than the individual patient and the family who love her."

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