The legislative record of the Texas Legislature during the six-year tenure of House Speaker Joe Straus draws high praise from national pro-life organizations and harsh criticism from pro-abortion organizations. Americans United for Life ranks Texas as the 6th most pro-life state and writes, “As a result of aggressive legislative action over the past several years, Texas has become one of the most protective states in the nation.” NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League) gives Texas an “F” on “choice-related laws.”
One would think the Speaker, the most powerful member of the House, would naturally be given at least some credit for the surge in pro-life bills the House has passed in recent years. Many have done so. The author of HB 2, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, proclaimed that without the support of Speaker Straus the passage of HB 2 would not have been possible. She made that statement before thousands of pro-lifers at the Texas Rally for Life in January 2014. She also authored a piece in TribTalk.org called “Stop denying Straus’ pro-life credentials” in which she wrote, “Straus has made it possible for me and other pro-life legislators to accomplish what our constituents want us to do.”
Currently some 74 incumbent or newly-elected members of the House have publicly endorsed Straus for Speaker. Many of those, including Rep. Laubenberg and other authors of pro-life bills, are pro-life heroes.
Major pro-life leaders agree. Kyleen Wright of Texans for Life Coalition agrees and wrote, “A brief look at the House record under Speaker Joe Straus shows a number of high profile victories, many of which have been challenged in court by liberals.”
Speaker Straus earned Texas Alliance for Life’s “Courageous Defense of Life” award after a sensational regular and special session in 2011. Under his leadership as speaker, the Texas House passed more pro-life legislation than in any other session in the history of Texas. When our PAC interviewed him, Joe Straus articulated to us the same pro-life position on abortion as President Ronald Reagan, and he has acted on that position.
Yet some voters have recently received slick mail pieces and emails blasting Straus as not being pro-life. A lengthy website attacking Straus has appeared. These materials claim that Straus primarily voted pro-abortion before he became speaker, received well deserved praise and support from Planned Parenthood, is supported for speaker by NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), and has opposed the passage of pro-life bills on the House floor.
So, is Joe Straus really pro-life?
An objective look at the legislative record leads to no other conclusion than Joe Straus is pro-life. As a member of the Texas House, Rep. Joe Straus voted pro-life on the most critical votes. Under his leadership as Speaker of the House, landmark pro-life bills have reached the House floor during the regular and special sessions and are now law. Those laws have closed dozens of abortion facilities and saved countless lives.
This article debunks a number of false claims about Joe Straus.
False Claim 1: Straus failed to vote pro-life before becoming speaker.
First elected during a special election in 2005 to House District 121 in San Antonio, Straus served two sessions (four years) before being elected speaker. During those sessions Straus voted to:
- Require doctors to obtain written parental consent before performing abortions on minor girls 17 year of age and younger (SB 419, Record Vote 679, 2005). Before then, doctors only had to notify parents, and parents had no legal right to stop the abortion. Since then abortions on minors have dropped 40 percent.
- Ban third-trimester abortions (SB 419, Record Vote 676, 2005). Before that abortions were legal in Texas up to the moment of birth for any reason. Texas Alliance for Life regrets that this ban fails to protect unborn babies from third-trimester abortions who are not medically “viable,” i.e., who are not able to survive after birth even with available medical treatment. Nevertheless, we are grateful to those members who supported this important measure, albeit imperfect, including Joe Straus. From 2005 to 2012, abortions after six months have plummeted by 66 percent to fewer than 10 per year.
- Fund pro-life pregnancy resource centers with millions of dollars annually through the “Alternatives to Abortions” program (SB 1, 2005; HB 1, 2007).
Planned Parenthood and NARAL opposed all three measures.
False Claim 2: Joe Straus is not pro-life because he received a 100 percent rating by NARAL.
Much hay has been made over a claim that NARAL Pro-Choice Texas “rated” Joe Straus “100%” in 2007.
However, that claim has little validity. NARAL’s scorecard is wrong.
Joe Straus did not cast any votes favorable to NARAL’s point of view.
NARAL’s score is based on only one vote (#8 in the scorecard). NARAL shows Straus voting “pro-choice” on the amendment. However, their account conflicts with the House Journal, which clearly shows that Joe Straus was absent during that vote (Record Vote 224).
Regardless, NARAL Pro-Choice America and their state affiliate have never endorsed Joe Straus for speaker and rates the Texas House as “anti-choice.”
False Claim 3: Planned Parenthood gave a $1,000 check to Joe Straus and endorsed him.
One anti-Straus website shows an image of a $1,000 check from Planned Parenthood made out to Joe Straus with the words “Joe Straus received a $1,000 donation from Planned Parenthood of San Antonio and South Central Texas. (Texas Ethics Commission, 08/27/2008).”
This is completely false. Straus never received a donation from Planned Parenthood.
A quick look at the Planned Parenthood’s report to the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) shows this expenditure was not a check, cash, or in-kind contribution. Rather Planned Parenthood made the expenditure independently, without permission, and not coordinated with Straus’ political campaign.
Those acquainted with Texas election law know this type of expenditure is a “direct expenditure,” not made “in connection with a campaign for an elective office” as defined in the Texas Election Code and “without the prior consent or approval of the candidate or officeholder on whose behalf the expenditure was made” according to TEC rules. The report does not indicate how Planned Parenthood spent the money, but it was quite obviously a bad investment. Under Speaker Joe Straus, in 2011 Planned Parenthood lost $29 of $31 million tax dollars it had been receiving every year.
Consistent with this, the “Texans for Joe Straus” report to the TEC during the same reporting period correctly shows no donation from Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has never endorsed Joe Straus for his house seat or for speaker.
False Claim 4: Joe Straus was elected to be Speaker mostly by Democrats.
Joe Straus has been elected by his peers to be the House Speaker three times — in 2009 by acclamation, in 2011 by a 132-15 vote, and in 2013 by acclamation “with any member being permitted to cast a ‘present’ or ‘nay’ vote.” No one did.
False Claim 5: Joe Straus used his influence as Speaker to thwart the passage of pro-life bills.
Quite the opposite is true. The speaker refers all bills to the dozens of committees, appoints the chairmen of all committees, and assigns at least half of the members of each substantive committee and all of the members of the committees that control the flow of bills.
Straus has appointed pro-life chairmen and members of key committees, including the critical Appropriations, State Affairs, Transportation, and Calendars Committees. The chairmen and members control whether any bill reaches the House floor and, if so, which version that bill has.
For example, in 2009 the bill to authorize the creation of the “Choose Life” specialty license plate was stuck in the House Transportation Committee. The chairman declined to give the bill a hearing. The next session in 2011, Straus appointed Rep. Larry Phillips, the author of the Choose Life bill, to chair the committee, which approved it promptly. The full House passed it despite fierce opposition and two potentially fatal points of order that Straus overruled.
The chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Rep. Byron Cook, and his committee members have done extraordinary work hearing and voting out pro-life bills even in the face of unprecedented opposition. The most notable was HB 2, which drew 2,000 opponents at the July 2013 hearing.
Under Speaker Straus’ leadership, numerous pro-life bills have been heard in committee, sent to the House floor, successfully passed, and are now law, including:
- Ban abortions after the 5th month (SB 5 & HB 2, 2013).
- Require abortion-inducing drugs (RU-486) to be administered according to FDA regulations in the presence of a physician (SB 5 & HB 2, 2013).
- Require abortion doctors to have privileges at nearby hospitals (SB 5 & HB 2, 2013).
- Require licensed abortion facilities to increase their safety standards to the level of outpatient surgical centers (Ambulatory Surgical Centers) (SB 5 & HB 2, 2013).
- Defund Planned Parenthood $29 of $31 million per year, helping to close half of their 14 abortion facilities (HB 1, SB 7, 2011; SB 1, 2013).
- Fund compassionate alternatives to abortion (SB 1, 2009; HB 1, 2011; SB 1 2013).
- Require public universities to report embryonic stem cell research (SB 67, 2013).
- Require abortion doctors to give women the opportunity to see a sonogram image of their unborn child, hear the heartbeat, and meet for a consultation at least 24 hours before an abortion decision (HB 15, 2011).
- Authorize the creation of the “Choose Life” license plate to promote infant adoption and fund loving alternatives to abortion (SB 267, 2011).
- Prevent hospital districts from using tax dollars for abortion (SB 7, 2011).
- Exclude Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from the Women’s Health Program (SB 7, 2011).
False Claim 6: “Not a single pro-life measure was moved to the floor of the House for a vote” during 2013 regular session.
First, this claim ignores two pro-life bills that passed the House and are now law.
Both pro-life bills passed the House and are now law. In particular, SB 1 included numerous pro-life provisions, including:
- Ban on direct and indirect funding for abortion.
- Ban on family planning funding for “individuals or entities that perform elective abortion procedures or that contract with or provide funds to individuals or entities for the performance of elective abortion procedures.”
- Exclusion of state family planning funds to organizations that fail to provide comprehensive primary care (such as Planned Parenthood).
- Prioritization of federal Title X family planning funds to organizations that provide comprehensive primary care.
- Ban on family planning funds for prescription drugs (including abortifacients) for minors without parental consent.
- Requirements that state health and human services contractors report suspected child abuse, including statutory rape.
- $10,300,000 for the pro-life “Alternatives to Abortion” program.
- $5,000,000 for adult, not embryonic, stem cell research and treatments at the Texas Heart Institute.
- $2,000,000 for banking adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat a variety of diseases.
Second, SB 1 and SB 67 were the only realistic vehicles to advance pro-life measures through the House and the Senate during the 2013 regular session. Passing other pro-life bills through the House was futile. The Senate lacked enough votes to pass other stand-alone pro-life measures. The Senate’s Rule 5.13 requires a two-thirds vote (21 of 31 senators) to suspend the “regular order of business” to bring any bill to the Senate floor. Unfortunately, there were at most 20 pro-life votes.
For example, Rep. Laubenberg’s five-month ban on abortion, HB 2364, had zero chance of passage in the Senate. Had the House passed and sent it over over to the Senate, it would have suffered the same fate as its companion bill, SB 25 by Sen. Glenn Hegar, which died in the Senate for lack of votes.
The same was true of every other abortion-related bill considered in committee in the House, including HB 2816, Rep. Cindy Burkett’s hospital privileges requirement for abortion doctors. Its companion, SB 1198, authored by Sen. Larry Taylor, passed out of committee but lacked the required 21 votes and died. The same happened to Sen. Bob Deuell’s SB 537 to vastly increase safety standards at abortion facilities to the level of ambulatory surgical centers and Sen. Dan Patrick’s SB 97 to require doctors to be present and that FDA protocol be followed during drug-induced abortions.
It was not until the special sessions in the summer of 2013 that the Senate was able to pass those bills in the form of SB 5 or HB 2. During the special sessions, the two-thirds rule was irrelevant because pro-life Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ensured that the consideration of the pro-life bills — SB 5 and HB 2 that included the language of SB 1198, SB 537, SB 97, and HB 2364 — was the regular order of business and needed only a majority vote to pass.
False Claim 7: Joe Straus impeded the passage of SB 5 and HB 2 during the special session of 2013.
That assertion is clearly refuted by this author’s previous blog post, “Myth Buster: Did David Dewhurst and Joe Straus Try to Kill SB 5?” Under Speaker Straus the House passed SB 5 and HB 2 extremely quickly, requiring only a few days compared the usual weeks or months during a regular session.
False Claim 8: Joe Straus is not pro-life because he did not vote for the pro-life measures.
Texas has a decades-old tradition that the speaker rarely votes on any bills. Consistent with this tradition, in 2013 Speaker Straus cast only two votes out of more than 1,200 on the House floor. Those were SB 1 (including the pro-life provisions discussed above), and a supplemental appropriations bill. In 2011, he cast only a single vote on a bill, the General Appropriations Act (also including pro-life provisions).
The time has come for those organizations and individuals who are orchestrating the misinformation campaign against Joe Straus and the House members who support him to cease. Fomenting distrust and disunity among well meaning pro-life individuals who are not very familiar with the recent history of the landmark pro-life gains in the Legislature and the complexity of the legislative process does a huge disservice to unborn babies and other vulnerable persons. Passing pro-life bills is never easy, even with pro-life majorities in both chambers and even during special sessions. A successful pro-life agenda requires sufficient unity. Those groups promoting these false and dishonest claims about Joe Straus are harming, not protecting, innocent human lives.