Lege Lines: Taking Aim at Planned Parenthood ... Again
Senate committee advances bill targeting Downtown clinic
On Monday, March 18, the Senate State Affairs Committee ushered through a bill in a 7-0 vote that takes aim at the Planned Parenthood clinic on E. Seventh Street. Senate Bill 22 by abortion opponent state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would prohibit certain transactions (including contracts, lease agreements, and donations) between a government entity and an abortion provider or affiliate, a not-so-subtle attack on the city of Austin's longtime nominal $1-a-year lease agreement with the Downtown PP. The city has leased the space to the reproductive health provider since 1974, renewing it most recently last November in a 10-1 Council vote. Under the legislation, the state attorney general would be able to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the agreement and others like it.
Major anti-choice lobbying group Texas Right to Life told the committee that SB 22 is a high priority for the group, and implored them to expand the legislation to encompass hospitals and universities. The bill is also a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who listed it among his top three abortion-related bills he hopes to see pass. A stream of anti-choice advocates also testified before the committee, at an oftentimes rambling pace, claiming cities should not "subsidize" the abortion industry, echoing bill author Campbell. However, the local Planned Parenthood center in the crosshairs does not provide abortion; rather, it offers preventive health care services like cancer screenings, birth control, and STD and HIV tests to the community's low-income and uninsured residents. The clinic served more than 5,000 patients in 2018, totaling about $560,000 in subsidized health care.
Revisiting her old stomping grounds, former Sen. Wendy Davis testified against the bill, citing her experience receiving basic health care at Planned Parenthood as a teenager, which enabled her to pursue a career. Davis, who now leads advocacy group Deeds Not Words, said SB 22 would disrupt critical care for women who need it most. "This is a bill that seeks to interfere with a local community's decision to make what it believes are the best health care decisions for the people who live in their local communities," she told the committee.
Meanwhile, Mayor Steve Adler, joined by City Council Members Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Jimmy Flannigan, Paige Ellis, and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, stood in solidarity at the Downtown Planned Parenthood earlier that day to oppose SB 22. "I can't stress enough how important it is to really walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to local control and personal accountability," said Eckhardt. "And this is truly an assault on both." Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood Greater Texas noted that the bill would have "broad" implications for partnerships across the state, including a health education program for mothers with opioid dependency and a citywide teen pregnancy prevention program in Dallas.
SB 22 now moves to the full GOP-dominated Senate for debate. If passed there, it would still need approval from the House as well.