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Battle of the Bills in Texas: Pro-life Politicians want Abolitionists to Support Abortion Regulations or Shut Up

Photo by Conner Haines

A Texas State Affairs Committee hearing became the site of a clash of worldviews Wednesday, as three different groups weighed in on House Bill 200, a partial birth abortion ban.

Pro-choice advocates testified against the bill, claiming it places an undue burden on women seeking to end their children’s lives. Pro-life representatives testified in favor of the bill, assuring their opponents that it will not stop abortion, since partial birth abortion is already illegal at a federal level and is not practiced in Texas.

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel to NARAL pro-choice Texas, expressed concern about the need for fetal tissue in research, but regarding the ban on partial birth abortion, said “Because it’s the current law, we don’t anticipate that it will affect healthcare in the state of Texas.”

Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life stated, “If you just go after this procedure but allow other methods, specifically dismemberment, the courts will not strike it down, and this bill does not go beyond partial birth abortion.” He added that the bill does not place what the courts call “undue burden” on women, because it does not restrict access to other methods that are easily available in the second trimester. “The reason House Bill 200 will withstand a federal court challenge is that House Bill 200 bans this specific method of abortion, it doesn’t make abortion unavailable to women,” he said.

“I think more than anything else we need to make sure that women who feel like they need to make the choice to have an abortion have the safest procedure possible,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Cindy Burkett.

Meanwhile abolitionists testified against the bill on the grounds that HB 948, a bill which would make abortion entirely illegal and punishable as murder, has also been introduced and would render HB 200 even more irrelevant than it already is. Byron Cook, the pro-life chair of the State Affairs committee, has thus far refused to grant HB 948 a hearing. The first time HB 948 was mentioned during Wednesday’s hearing, Cook quickly interjected, saying “your testimony is over.”

The tone of the committee hearing up to this point was polite as pro-lifers and pro-choicers gently opposed each other while simultaneously seeking common ground, each speaking of the destruction of children in a civilized manner and debating the treatment of their dead bodies with clinical detachment. But when abolitionists began to suggest that the killing of children be outlawed completely, the environment quickly turned hostile.

This is the second time abolitionists have showed up at a hearing to debate a pro-life regulatory bill, and in both instances their representatives ignored or opposed them.

Cook repeatedly shut down all testimony related to HB 948 or in favor of abolition, on the pretext that testimony must be strictly relevant to the bill being discussed.

“Truly, we’ve got to stick to this bill. If you can’t, we’re going to have to ask you not to come up and testify,” he said during a similar hearing on House Bill 35 last week. 

Abolitionists contended that their testimony was about the bill at hand, since their opposition to HB 200 revolves around its failure to do what HB 948 does. 

“What Byron Cook and his committee failed to recognize in both the House Bill 200 and the House Bill 35 hearings, where he repeatedly tried to shut us down for speaking on the topic of abolition, is that the problem that we have with these bills is that they don’t abolish abortion,” said Houston abolitionist Caleb Head.  “He wants us to talk about partial birth abortion bans and he wants us to talk about what we should do with children once they’re dead, but the reality is that we have a problem with these bills because they don’t abolish abortion despite recognizing that abortion is a problem.”

Abolitionist Sonya Emet agreed, saying “he doesn’t want us to speak generally about abortion or bring up ‘our cause’ as he calls it. He continued to say ‘speak to the bill’ but it’s kind of hard to speak to the bill without speaking about why you’re against the bill, or what you’d prefer to see, or what you see the issue or concerns to be.”

Cook called the actions of abolitionists who mentioned HB 948 “inexcusable” and according to Head, became so perturbed that he announced to the entire room that anyone present to testify on behalf of abolition “might as well go home because they were wasting their time.”

Multiple abolitionists nonetheless testified, some in tears, though Cook scolded them repeatedly, telling them they were harming their cause, and would “catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

He even went so far as to have one abolitionist who attempted to record the hearing removed and arrested. When one man objected to this treatment during his testimony, Cook told him, “you’re out of order.”

“I told them it’s an abomination before God to murder innocent preborn human beings, no matter the means they use to do it,” Emet said. “Whether they’re banning a baby being pulled out head first and killed before he’s all the way out, or feet first. Bills like HB 200 are an abomination because the Lord says ‘thou shalt not kill’ and this ban does not stop their murder, just like the one in 2003.”

Emet said the result of the 2003 federal ban on partial birth abortions was that abortionists now inject their victims with poison to kill them before dismembering them in utero

“We told them, ‘woe to those who withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in their power to act and when they continue to enact evil statutes, constantly recording unjust decisions as to deprive the needy of justice,’” she continued. “HB 200 is an indicator of our rebellion before the God who avenges blood and does not ignore or forget the cries of the afflicted.”

Major pro-life organizations, meanwhile, joined Cook in refusing to establish justice for the preborn.

“We’re not suggesting that the Legislature pass any bills that would ban abortion … because those laws, under the foreseeable future, would be struck down as unconstitutional by the federal courts,” Pojman said in an interview with the Texas Observer.

“The distinction we saw today between the three different sides of the abortion debate became so evident,” Head said. “You had people from NARAL and the League of Women’s Voters testifying against the bill from a pro-choice standpoint, then you had people from the pro-life organizations testifying in favor of the bill, and then the abortion abolitionists testifying against the bill and asking for an amendment that would include language to abolish abortion entirely.”

Head went on to say that pro-life representatives actually defended HB 200 to their pro-choice opponents by reassuring them that it would not actually stop any abortions at all because it’s a ban on abortions that are already illegal federally.

Much of the testimony also dealt with the sale and donation of murdered children’s bodies and whether their remains are useful or necessary for research related to infectious diseases, a topic Head said is “irrelevant because we would not have a problem with the sale of fetal tissue if we would outlaw abortion.”

Rather than discussing whether a mother should be able to take her child’s life, HB 200 advocates chose to discuss whether a mother should be able to consent to the use of her child’s body for research after to choosing to have him or her killed.  Jennifer Allmon, Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, who testified in support of the bill, said “When a mother chooses to end the life of her unborn, she no longer has the ability to consent on behalf of the child.”

Abolitionists indicated in their testimony that it is time for politicians to stop being pro-life in name only, putting forth legislative measures that only make a pretense of protecting children in the womb.

“Texans are tired of pathetic efforts like HB 200 that appear to take concern for these deaths without actually working to abolish abortion,” said Christopher Youngblood in his testimony. “If we were having a hearing on the murder of 1-year-olds in the state of Texas, we would not pass laws to regulate what methods you use to kill them or that you could not sell their body parts once you’re through.”

Russell Tudor, another citizen who testified, echoed this sentiment, pointing out the instances of words like “kill”, “unborn child” and “living” within the bill. “We all know full well what the laws of our state are continuing to allow, and yet you, our representatives, are still discussing when to kill innocent living unborn Texans and what to do with their dead bodies,” he said.

“HB 200 treats the murder of the preborn as some acceptable medical procedure. That is perverse,” said Johan Gervais in his testimony. “To my Republican representatives, I remind you that I and thousands of other delegates to the Texas Republican State convention gave you a clear mandate for this legislative session: to abolish human abortion. Texas demands abolition! We are not fooled by regulations and incremental nibbles such as HB 200.”