Courageous Defense of Life Awardees
Following a sensational 84th state legislative session that ended on June 1, Texas Alliance for Life has announced 14 legislators who are recipients of our “Courageous Defense of Life” award. We presented 11 members with the award at our Annual Benefit Dinner on Tuesday, October 13, at the Hilton Austin. We will present the award to three more legislators at a later date.
Each played a significant role in helping to achieve the highly successful session. A summary of the pro-life successes is given here. The achievements include continuing to defund Planned Parenthood, passing five major pro-life bills, increasing funding for compassionate alternatives to abortion, and numerous other pro-life provisions in the Appropriations Act.
“We are honored to present each of these outstanding legislators with our top award,” said Joe Pojman, Ph.D., executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “Along with Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Joe Straus, these members played critical roles in successfully promoting pro-life legislation that builds on the tremendous gains achieved in Texas since 2011.”
Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) & Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Spring)
Sen. Donna Campbell, M.D., an emergency room physician, sponsored and Rep. Debbie Riddle authored HB 416 to protect women at abortion facilities from sex trafficking by requiring workers to be trained to identify and assist victims. This is the first bill of its kind anywhere in the United States, and it will save the lives of babies and protect women from forced abortions.
The sex trafficking issue is particularly difficult to address. Many victims of sex trafficking are in grave danger because the person forcing them to abort their children is likely present at the abortion facility waiting room. Alerting that trafficker that he has been reported to law enforcement puts the victim, her family, and even the abortion facility staff in an even greater risk. Also, some victims — both women and girls — are not even aware they are victims of trafficking and view their activities as a lifestyle choice.
Despite facing opposition from some members in a committee hearing, Rep. Riddle, who has strong credentials as an advocate for victims of sex trafficking, was able to get HB 416 passed in the House unanimously. Sen. Campbell masterfully got this bill through the Senate in part because of her strong pro-life credentials and her reputation as a knowledgeable healthcare professional.
Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) & Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster)
As the chairman of the powerful Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Charles Schwertner had a significant hand in every pro-life bill passed this session. Also, being a pro-life physician, his support carried huge weight with his peers.
This is the kind of legislative muscle that was needed to successfully pass HB 3074, which Dr. Schwertner sponsored and Rep. Drew Springer authored, ending a more than 10 year impasse caused by controversy over how to reform end of life laws in Texas.
This critically important bill gives patients near the end of life the right to food and water, thus protecting them from a cruel death by starvation and dehydration. At the same time, HB 3074 maintains conscience protections for doctors so they are not forced to provide harmful, painful, or unethical treatments indefinitely.
Sen. Schwertner and Rep. Springer were able to bring together unprecedented unity and support from the medical community, the disability community, the religious community, and the pro-life community to pass this historic bill.
Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)
Sen. Jane Nelson has had a hand in passing every pro-life law in Texas for nearly two decades, helping to make Texas the envy of nearly every other state.
Among the most effective bills she authored was SB 7, passed in 2011, that defunded $29 of $31 million per year from Planned Parenthood and contributed to the closure of nine Planned Parenthood abortion facilities.
In 2015, she chaired the Senate Finance Committee, which wrote the entire two-year state budget. Under her direction, the committee drafted, and the Legislature passed, HB 1 that continued numerous pro-life provisions and previous defunding of Planned Parenthood ($29 of $31 million in family planning funding). Additionally, HB 1 shifts $1.4 million per year in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program from Planned Parenthood to better providers that do not offer or promote elective abortion. Indeed, she engineered an increase in funding for women’s health services to historically high levels — nearly $285 million per year — without a dime going to Planned Parenthood.
The budget contains many other pro-life provisions, including a requirement that contractors report suspected child abuse, including statutory rape, a ban on the dispensing of prescription drugs such as birth control drugs and devices to minors without parental consent. The budget also increased funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program by 78%. The budget further limits sexuality education spending to only programs that comply with each of the federal A-H components of abstinence education.
Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana)
Rep. Byron Cook chairs the State Affairs Committee, and, as such, he is extremely well thought of by the majority of the pro-life community, as we explained in a recent blog post. The State Affairs Committee considers nearly all of the pro-life bills in the House, most of which are highly contentious and frequently attract formidable opposition.
For example, during the special session of July 2013, when Chairman Cook’s committee held a public hearing on HB 2 (the extremely successful pro-life bill to ban late abortions and vastly increase safety standards at abortion facilities), more than 3,400 opponents registered to testify against it, hoping to overwhelm the process through gross numbers. Chairman Cook, the State Affairs Committee, and his small staff skillfully processed the unprecedented number of witnesses, without error.
Because Chairman Cook thwarted the opponents of HB 2, the Legislature was able to pass it, and then-Gov. Rick Perry was able to sign it into law, contributing to the closure of nearly two-dozen abortion facilities that refused to meet the increased safety standards. If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds HB 2, even more could close.
This session, Chairman Cook led his committee to pass seven major pro-life bills — HB 177 (Adult Stem Cell Research Consortium), HB 416 (protecting victims of human trafficking at abortion facilities), HB 3074 (protecting patients near the end of life), HB 3130 (banning abortion coverage in the Obamacare exchange), HB 3374 (protecting unborn children with Down syndrome), HB 3994 (closing loopholes that allow secret abortions on minor girls), and SB 575 (banning abortion coverage in health insurance plans). Of these, five are now law protecting mothers, unborn babies, and vulnerable patients.
One of the best compliments comes from the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Tan Parker, who said, “Byron Cook is committed to passing pro-life legislation, and the results of his work are clear with the passage of end of life reforms and one of the best judicial bypass bills in the nation during the 84th Session.”
Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi)
Rep. Todd Hunter is the chairman of the powerful House Calendars Committee. Every controversial bill considered on the House floor must be placed on the House agenda by the Calendars Committee, including virtually every pro-life bill.
From authoring pro-life bills in past sessions to advocating for other pro-life bills publicly and especially behind the scenes, Chariman Hunter was a critical part of the success of the pro-life agenda this session, as he has been in 2011 and 2013.
Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth)
Rep. Charlie Geren serves as a critical member of two of the most important committees for pro-life bills, the House State Affairs and Calendars committees. Rep. Geren defended and voted for all of the pro-life bills that came up for a vote in the State Affairs Committee this session and previous sessions.
Rep. Geren worked diligently on the front lines and behind the scenes on pro-life issues, making the most recent session one of the best we have ever had in Texas.
He has been a champion for ethics reform to give the public the right to know, in a timely manner, who pays for political advertising to give transparency to the election process as a defense against corruption and vote buying. The door of his Capitol office is always open, and he publicly invites everyone, especially opponents of his point of view, to visit and explain their positions.
Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland)
Rep. Keffer has been a defender of life in the Texas House for 20 years. He has supported every pro-life bill that Texas has passed since his first session in 1997, including the first major bill, the Parental Notice Act, in 1999. This past session, it was Rep. Keffer and his staff who worked with Texas Alliance for Life to draft ten pro-life bills, many of which were ultimately passed.
This past March, Texas Alliance for Life and two other major pro-life organizations, the Texas Catholic Conference and Texans for Life, needed a member of the Texas House to organize a news conference to kick off our aggressive pro-life agenda. Rep. Keffer stepped up to the plate with staff support and help in rounding up key members of the House to attend and demonstrate support. We described that highly successful event in a previous blog post, “House Leadership and Members Gather to Show Remarkable Support for Pro-Life Agenda.” That news conference can be viewed here.
Rep. Keffer joint authored a bill to ban a dreadful type of lawsuit in Texas known as “wrongful birth.” In this sort of a lawsuit, parents of a child with a disability sue medical providers because they were not informed of their child’s disability with enough time to abort the child.
Rep. Keffer also served on the conference committee that passed HB 1295, which requires public universities who publish research to disclose the sponsors of that research. This includes organizations like the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin, which consistently testifies in the Legislature and in the Courts against pro-life initiatives. Until now, the sponsor of this organization, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, was hidden from the public, even though they have donated more than $4.5 million to defeat pro-life laws in Texas.
Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) & Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria)
The U.S. Supreme Court allows states to have laws that require doctors to notify or obtain the consent of parents before performing abortions on their minor daughters, 17 years of age and younger. The Texas Legislature first passed a parental notice law in 1999 and added a parental consent requirement in 2005. However, the Court also requires states to have a legal mechanism for a judge to approve a secret abortion if the minor meets certain requirements: that the minor is judged to be “mature and well informed enough” to make the abortion decision on her own or that the abortion is in her “best interest.” That process, called, a “judicial bypass,” was first created in Texas law in 1999 and has never been updated, even though it is rife with loopholes that effectively eliminated the parents’ rights to protect their daughters from abortion.
This session, Sen. Charles Perry sponsored and Rep. Geanie Morrison authored HB 3994, which substantially reforms the judicial bypass process. HB 3994 closes many of the loopholes in the law to better ensure parental rights are respected. Both Sen. Perry and Rep. Morrison skillfully fought off numerous weakening amendments offered by opponents on the Senate and House floors. Thanks to Sen. Perry and Rep. Morrison, Texas now has one of, if not the most, protective judicial bypass laws in the entire country.
A horrible reality is that between 60 and 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are destroyed by abortion. Rep. Morrison also authored HB 3374 to address this terrible problem. HB 3374 protects unborn babies with Down syndrome by requiring physicians and medical professionals to provide parents with accurate and up-to-date information on Down syndrome as well as resources upon diagnosis.
Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound)
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and this is probably no more true for any state representative during the last session that Tan Parker. In addition to “blessed,” he is certainly appreciated.
While highly regarded as a five-term member of the Texas House, the respect Rep. Parker has earned from his peers is especially telling from the fact that they elected him to be the chairman of the House Republican Caucus.
In that role, Rep. Parker was crucial in calling together key members of the legislature and issue groups to ensure the House had the votes to pass critical pro-life bills. For example, Rep. Parker’s work behind the scenes was absolutely critical in passing Rep. Morrison’s HB 3994 to reform the judicial bypass, as well as Rep. Springer’s HB 3074, which protects patients at the end-of-life. In the latter bill, Rep. Parker helped to achieve a signed agreement among the major pro-life organizations that broke a 10-year impasse due to a lack of consensus among the three groups.
Rep. John Zerwas, M.D. (R-Richmond)
As one of only four physicians in the Texas House, Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., who has served for five terms, brings tremendous credibility to bills that he supports. In that role, he sponsored SB 7 in 2011, the bill authored by Sen. Jane Nelson that caused Planned Parenthood to lose $29 million in family planning funds. Indeed, Dr. Zerwas has been an advocate of funding for organizations that offer comprehensive primary and preventative care in addition to women’s health services, a level of care that Planned Parenthood is unable or unwilling to meet, thus making them ineligible.
In 2015, he was a joint author of HB 177, one of the major pro-life bills passed, which creates a Texas Adult Stem Cell Research Consortium to promote life-saving research and cures using adult stem cells (which do not involve the destruction of human embryos). He was also joint author of another bill to protect human embryos from destruction, HB 1145. Dr. Zerwas also co-authored other critical pro-life bills passed this session, including HB 416, HB 3074, and HB 3994.
Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa)
It is uncommon for a freshman member of the Legislature to take a leadership role in controversial legislation, but that is exactly what Rep. Brooks Landgraf did. Rep. Landgraf successfully authored an amendment to HB 3374, the Down Syndrome Information Act, which ensures that state-prepared information for parents receiving a Down syndrome diagnosis does not promote or even mention abortion as an option. After he advocated for his amendment on the floor during a debate, the House adopted the amendment on a 96 – 38 vote. He authored HB 2924, a bill similar to HB 3374. However, HB 3374 became the vehicle for the issue, which he accepted with humility.
Rep. Landgraf explained that much of his motivation stems from his dedication to a disabled family member. “This issue is very near and dear to my heart,” he said in a news release. “My aunt Phyllis was diagnosed with Down syndrome and brought an overwhelming amount of joy to my family over the course of her lifetime. It’s important for parents to have information about all of the helpful resources available to them.”