Texas Lawmaker Challenges GOP On What It Means To Be ‘Pro-Life’
In response to the Republican-led Texas state legislature’s decision to pass controversial anti-abortion legislation that would severely limit access to female reproductive services, a Democratic lawmaker has introduced a bill that would prevent the legislation from being enacted until capital punishment is also banned in the state.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Harris) introduced the bill, which would block the abortion restrictions until at least 60 days after the death penalty is abolished in Texas.
Though controversial and unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled legislature, the proposal has sparked a discussion about what it means to truly be “pro-life.”
While many Democrats have long opposed the death penalty, they have viewed abortion as a private reproductive health issue and argue it should be left up to a woman to decide what she wants to do with her body. Most Republicans, on the other hand, say an abortion is wrong because it results in the death of an innocent life, but have no problem sentencing convicted criminals to death.
Dutton tried unsuccessfully to include his proposal in the anti-abortion bill, which bans abortions at 20 weeks and requires abortions to occur only in facilities equipped with a surgical center — a restriction that would effectively shut down all but five of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) famously attempted to filibuster for 11 hours to block the bill during a special session.
Based on Dutton’s record, the lawmaker has long been opposed to the death penalty. He first filed legislation to end capital punishment in 2003. It was defeated, but Dutton filed a similar proposal in 2012.
“Twelve people can put somebody to death in this state, but now, we want one person to not be able to decide that same issue,” Dutton said earlier this month.
Since 1976, when Texas legalized the use of the death penalty, 500 inmates have been executed, garnering the state the title for most executions in the U.S. Of those 500 executions, 261 have occurred under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry, a Republican, has upset abortion-rights advocates with statements such as, “In Texas, we’re going to support protecting life,” even while one-third of the U.S. death row population is in Texas.
Battle over abortion rights far from over
Though the anti-abortion legislation has passed and will likely be signed by Perry, women’s rights advocates have not backed down from publicly displaying their discontent.
For the past five weeks, thousands of reproductive rights advocates have held rallies throughout the state in the hopes that GOP lawmakers will listen. One of their main arguments is that restrictive anti-abortion legislation won’t end abortions, but rather will limit the number of safe places a woman can go to have an abortion.
In addition to limiting the number of clinics that could provide abortion services, the anti-abortion bill also failed to include an exemption for cases of rape or incest. The bill’s author, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), said such an amendment was not necessary.
“In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out,” she said, insinuating incorrectly that the procedure in which physical evidence is collected in cases of sexual assault would prevent a woman from getting pregnant.
“It is clear that the agenda in Texas and across the nation is to effectively end safe, legal abortions — which of course won’t end abortions, but rather will drive them underground,” Katie Feyh, a feminist activist from the International Socialist Organization, said.
Another concern for groups such as Rise Up Texas — a grassroots group that formed after a June demonstration against the anti-abortion legislation — is that the law affects people of color and LGBT communities more than any other demographic.
But GOP lawmakers such as state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) said the law was about protecting and supporting human life, not a “war on women.”
“We fight this fight because of innocent human life,” he said, while holding up a picture of the 13-week-old fetus growing inside of his pregnant wife.
“Our intentions are honorable because we care for and fight for human baby lives,” Villalba said. “It matters for my son. It matters for other babies, other humans in our state who will have to deal with these questions.”
Still, Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) stressed that her colleagues in favor of the legislation need to realize that by passing such a bill, the lawmakers were in effect “forcing women to find black-market alternatives.” She shared the story of her father’s friend who died while obtaining an illegal abortion in Mexico.
“When you come up here and ask why is a rape and incest exception important, I don’t want you to think about these women in faraway lands,” she said.
Gonzalez said she was a victim of child sexual assault and said, “I want you to look at me. I want you to understand it took me five years to tell anyone.”
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