By Joe Pojman, Ph.D., Executive Director
State Representative Cindy Burkett, the Texas state representative from Sunnyvale, is a pro-life champion with an outstanding voting record. She scored 100% on Texas Alliance for Life’s 2017 Legislative Scorecard. Even more than that, she has been among the most important pro-life leaders in the Texas House.
She was one of the principal authors of HB 2 in 2013, the landmark bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks, including abortions on babies with disabilities like Down syndrome.
Now Cindy Burkett is running for Texas Senate in District 2, a tremendous opportunity to increase her pro-life influence in the Legislature. We strongly urge voters to support Cindy Burkett for Texas Senate so she can continue increase protection of unborn babies and their mothers from abortion.
Unfortunately, Representative Burkett is being unfairly attacked by a Houston organization for a principled vote on a measure related to unborn babies with fetal abnormalities so severe they are fatal. That measure was not passed in the Senate, had no chance of surviving a federal court challenge, and would have saved no lives from abortion. The abortion law firm that would bring the case would probably receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees that could then be used to strike down pro-life measures across the nation. This attack is highly unfortunate and serves only to exploit the tragedy associated with babies with those very rare conditions.
The abortion of an unborn child is always tragic. This is true even when the child has a condition so severe that the baby is not viable and will not be able to live outside the womb. Thankfully, abortions for cases of “severe fetal abnormality” are extremely rare after 20 weeks, occurring at most 16 times a year in Texas.
The position of Texas Alliance for Life is clear and consistent. We do not support abortions on babies with disabilities or abortions on babies with severe abnormalities. Doctors should never deliberately take the life of an innocent unborn child. We want to protect every unborn child, and we support laws that will do that to the greatest extent possible.
Cindy Burkett Is Solidly Pro-Life
By everyone’s account, Representative Cindy Burkett is an extremely hardworking legislator with a exceptional pro-life voting record and leadership on that issue. Since her time in the Texas Legislature beginning in 2011, Burkett has authored, co-authored, and voted for numerous landmark pro-life bills that are saving lives today.
In 2011, her first session, she helped pass HB 15, among the strongest sonogram/informed consent laws in the nation. She also voted for SB 7, which led to the defunding of Planned Parenthood by millions of dollars. She co-authored an amendment to the state’s budget known as the Chisum-Morrison-Burkett rider. That measure was adopted and lead to the shifting of more millions of tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood.
In 2013 Representative Burkett helped to pass HB 2 to ban abortions after 20-weeks after fertilization. The ban also protects all babies with disabilities, e.g., those with Down syndrome, spina bifida, and others. HB 2 also vastly increased abortion facility safety standards, resulting in the closing of more than a dozen abortion facilities.
Another critical part of HB 2, authored by Representative Burkett, is a measure to require abortion doctors to have privileges at a local hospital. That measure, along with Planned Parenthood’s defunding, let to the closure of more than half of the abortion facilities in Texas and saving of countless lives from the tragedy of abortion.
In 2015 she voted for all of the five pro-life bills passed that year:
- HB 3994 to protect minor girls from secret abortions without parental consent,
- HB 3074 to protect patients from euthanasia by starvation and dehydration,
- HB 177 to promote adult stem cell cures without destroying human embryos,
- HB 416 to protect victims of sex trafficking at abortion facilities, and
- HB 3374 to protect babies with Down syndrome from abortion.
Extraordinary Pro-life Leadership
Representative Burkett voted in 2017 in favor of all 10 pro-life bills that were passed. She demonstrated extraordinary pro-life leadership by taking the responsibility for sponsoring the most important pro-life bill of the session, SB 8. It was truly a sensational session for pro-life advocates, and more importantly, for the babies and vulnerable patients. See our Pro-Life Accomplishments of the 85th Legislature for a full description. But to highlight a few:
- SB 8 shuts down Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of baby body parts by banning partial-birth abortion, banning all research on the tissues and organs from aborted babies, and requiring the humane disposition of the bodies of babies who die from abortion rather than allowing the bodies to be ground and flushed into a sewer system,
- HB 2552 further protects victims of sex trafficking by making it a crime to force a woman to have an abortion and creating a first degree felony (life sentence) for killing an “unborn child” of a minor girl who is a victim of sex trafficking (pimps frequently force their enslaved girls to have abortions),
- HB 214 eliminates mandatory coverage for elective abortion in health insurance plans in Texas.
- SB 1107 to ban telemedicine abortions,
- SB 1 doubled the budget for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program that funds more than 100 pro-life pregnancy resource centers across the state, and
- SB 1 continues to DEFUND Planned Parenthood.
House Sponsor of the Most Important Pro-Life Bill of the Year
Representative Burkett’s role in the successful passage of SB 8 merits special mention. Burkett took on the difficult job of sponsoring SB 8 in the House. (The sponsor essentially acts as the author of a bill that originates in the Senate.) As the sponsor, she was the principal advocate of SB 8 during debate in committee hearings and well as on the House floor.
After Representative Burkett fended off numerous hostile amendments, she led the House to vote overwhelmingly in favor of SB 8, and the ban on partial-birth abortion as well as the other provisions are now the law in Texas.
Courageous Defense of Life
For her extraordinary and successful pro-life efforts, Texas Alliance for Life gave Representative Burkett our coveted “Courageous Defense of Life” award.
To say that Cindy Burkett is anything but pro-life is dishonest and false. Her record speaks for itself — Rep. Burkett received a 100% on Texas Alliance for Life’s 2017 Legislative Scorecard.
The Amendment that Would Have Saved No Lives
In May 2017, an amendment was offered to SB 8 on the House floor that would have removed a narrow exception to the 20-week ban that allows abortions on unborn babies with a “severe fetal abnormality.” The amendment did not pass. (The Texas Senate did not pass a similar measure even though they had ample opportunity to do so.)
The amendment would likely not have saved a single baby from abortion. It could not have survived a challenge in federal court at this time.
An unborn baby with a “severe fetal abnormality” is not viable and cannot live outside the womb even with the best medical attention. These are tragic cases when the developing baby has a fatal condition that will cause the baby to die before birth or shortly after birth. For example, anencephaly is a lethal condition in which the baby lacks a brain and cranium above the base of the skull, leading to death before or shortly after birth. Another condition is renal agenesis, in which the baby has no kidneys and likely no lungs, again, leading to death before or shortly after birth.
It is important to note that this exception currently in law does not allow abortions after 20 weeks on unborn babies with Down syndrome, spina bifida, cleft palate, and other non-fatal disabilities.
The Amendment Could Not Survive a Federal Court Challenge
The amendment could not survive a challenge in federal court at this time. It violates 45 years of Supreme Court precedent by banning abortions on babies who are not “viable.” In the court’s opinion striking down portions of HB 2, the court explains this “viability” standard:
[W]e now use “viability” as the relevant point at which a State may begin limiting women’s access to abortion for reasons unrelated to maternal health.
See Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in which the Supreme Court struck down two portions of HB 2.
Viability can begin as early as 21 weeks post fertilization for a healthy child born in an excellent medical facility. However, for a child who has a severe fetal abnormality as defined in current law, he or she will never achieve viability. Sadly, Supreme Court precedent prevents the State of Texas from protecting such a child from abortion.
If challenged, the federal courts would not only strike it down, adding to the terrible precedent upholding Roe v. Wade, the State of Texas would be obligated under federal law to pay the attorneys’ fees for the abortion providers who challenge the law. For example, in the challenge to HB 2, which Texas lost in the Supreme Court in 2016, the attorneys for the abortion providers will get as much as $4,500,000 from the State of Texas.
Abortions for “severe fetal abnormality” are extremely rare, making up at most 16 (0.03%) of the 55,287 abortions performed in Texas according to 2015 figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Some or all of those sixteen could have been abortions to save the life of the mother (which falls into the same reporting category), and would not have been affected by the amendment.
Texas Right to Life’s “Severe Fetal Abnormality” Exception
Texas Right to Life, a Houston-based organization, has criticized Cindy Burkett for her vote to table the amendment to remove the rarely used exception to the 20-week ban, the “severe fetal abnormality” exception. But the reality is that Texas Right to Life created, endorsed, and claimed credit for the exception that they now use to criticize Representative Burkett.
The very severe fetal abnormality exception Texas Right to Life uses as a reason to oppose Cindy Burkett’s election today is the same language they took credit for and praised in 2011 and supported again in HB 2 in 2013. They have never explained this hypocrisy.
The exception was first introduced into Texas law in 2011. A Medicaid reform bill, SB 7, included a provision to ban county funding for abortions. That ban included the Texas Right to Life “severe fetal abnormality” exception:
… a life threatening physical condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb.
Texas Right to Life gave the exception high praise. They described the exception on their website in glowing terms, indeed claiming ownership, in an article called “Texas Right to Life plugs abortion loopholes in healthcare bill”:
… language from Texas Right to Life was inserted, making clear that all life is precious and deserves protection, even unborn babies with disabilities.
Two years later in 2013, the Legislature passed HB 2. That bill had a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, again with high praise from Texas Right to Life. HB 2 did, however, contain this “severe fetal abnormality” exception language that would have been removed from the 20-week ban by the amendment to SB 8
One wonders if the goal of the the Texas Right to Life’s support of the amendment to SB 8 was for sound public policy or rather a political stunt designed to unfairly harm the excellent pro-life reputation of Representative Burkett?
And if that isn’t bad enough, does it not exploit the tragedy of those parents who grieve from the loss of a child with severe fetal abnormalities?
We strongly encourage voters to support Cindy Burkett for State Senate.
Pol. ad. paid for the Texas Alliance for Life PAC