AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans are pushing to make the state’s anti-abortion laws among the most restrictive in the country, and they appear to have the support of Gov. Greg Abbott.
It wasn’t necesarily Abbott’s State of the State Monday that inspired Republicans lawmakers to say they want this year to be the most “pro-life” session ever. One proposal already responds to Abbot’s push to prevent what are deemed selective abortions.
In early 2019, Spectrum News 1 met Andrea Ferrigno, corporate vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, when it relocated its abortion care clinic in Austin, because an anti-abortion organization bought out their old lease. Since then, Ferrigno said the pandemic complicated their ability to provide services, due to Texas law requiring two trips to abortion providers.
“Having to navigate through the many regulations that already exist and already create barriers for people and add visits that are medically unnecessary have made it made it very difficult during the pandemic, which is a time when we're trying to minimize how many times people are coming in,” Ferrigno said.
Abbott is seeking to further restrict abortion in Texas. During his State of the State address, he said while he signed eleven laws related to abortion, he encouraged lawmakers to do more.
“This session, we need a law that ensures that the life of every child will be spared from the ravages of abortion. We should also make explicit what should be obvious: no unborn child should be targeted for abortion on the basis on race, sex, or disability,” he said.
In January, State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) filed HB 1432 that would fulfill Abbott’s action item when it comes to banning abortions based on race and ethnicity. In a statement to Spectrum News 1, Shaheen said in part, “For too long, racial discrimination has been a large part of the abortion industry. During a time when our nation is having a dialogue about race, we need to ensure that discussion includes unborn babies. It’s time we end this discrimination in Texas.”
The bill has the support from the anti-abortion group Human Coalition, which is based in North Texas and operates a network of clinics across the country.
“Real holistic health care, we would say, does not include abortion. Abortion ends lives, it doesn't save lives, and so for us, holistic health means doing what our clinics do day in, day out, working with women, meeting them, where they're at,” said Chelsey Youman, Human Coalition’s Texas state director and national legislative adviser.
Youman acknowledged Republicans’ strong performance in Texas during the November elections as to why there is emphasis this legislative session on the issue of abortion. For example, freshman State Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) filed legislation that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected at around six weeks of pregnancy.
“Once you get to know women who are actually seeking abortion, a lot of their reasons for it, and most of them are tangible. They can’t afford child care. Some of them are homeless. Some of them just need a job and very basic needs that are not being met. As a state surrounding those women, it's saying ‘We are going to help support them, make sure that women are aware of the access they have to the current resources,’” Youman said.
Ferrigno believes this has less to do with working with women in low-income communities.
“All of this of talking points that they're using are just tactics to deviate from what's really important, what's really their objective, which is to basically shut down abortion access in the state of Texas,” Ferrigno said.
According to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports sexual and reproductive health rights, there is limited evidence to show that women of color are seeking abortions on the basis of race or that such selective-abortion bans would decrease abortions among certain groups.
Meanwhile, some Democrats in the legislature are pushing to restore health insurance coverage of abortions in Texas. State Rep. Sheryl Cole and State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt both of Austin filed “Rosie’s Law” in their respective chambers, which is named after Texan Rosie Jimenez who died of an illegal abortion. “Rosie’s Law” would expand insurance coverage of abortion for Texans under the state’s Medicaid plan and would repeal the state law that bans coverage of the procedure by private health insurers.
“When Texans need healthcare, it is vital that they receive it. The State of Texas should not be in the business of interfering with decisions made between Texans and their doctors, and medical procedures, including abortion, should not be reserved for only the wealthy and privileged few,” Cole said in a news release.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story misidentified Whole Woman’s Health as Whole Women’s Health. (February 5, 2021)