But the bill is so extreme – and plainly illegal – it’s failing to curry favor with anti-choice groups. Texas Alliance for Life, one of the state’s leading anti-abortion organizations, tells the Chronicle it does not support the bill for a few reasons, including the fact it wouldn’t withstand a federal court challenge and it asks the the Attorney General to ignore the Supreme Court. “We could no sooner ignore SCOTUS than the force of gravity,” says TAL’s Joe Pojman. His group also isn’t getting behind the bill because it criminalizes women who undergo abortion, says Pojman.
But TAL’s second priority, says its founder and leader Joe Pojman, is to prohibit “wrongful birth” lawsuits against physicians who withhold information from patients about fetal anomalies, another bill that didn’t pass last session. “These suits send the wrong message by saying society thinks a child born with a disability has less value than a child who is healthy,” says Pojman.
The discord between the two groups stems from TRL’s ties to well-funded conservative group Empower Texans, and from the group’s aggressive penchant for anti-choice bills that are sure to face legal challenges (“Deep Divisions in Texas’ Powerful Anti-Choice Movement,” April 6). Unlike TRL, Alliance for Life adopts a “prudent” approach to bills; for instance, it cautions against adopting bans at less than 20 weeks and is pessimistic about the 5th Circuit upholding the 2017 D&E ban. “Those laws do very poorly in federal court; there’s precedent against the law that’s strongly against us,” says Pojman.
Joe Pojman, who heads the TAL, says tensions between the two groups date back years, culminating in a “very bitter disagreement” in 2013 over end-of-life care, a policy both groups spend time focusing on when not lobbying for anti-choice bills. Of course, the groups share a central mission of advancing legislation that limits or ends abortion, but even with that shared anti-choice goal in a deeply red state, they’ve found reason to diverge. The difference largely lies in TRL’s opposition of any exceptions, however narrow, to abortion care, and TAL’s aversion to laws that are likely to be struck down by the courts.
The groups’ divisions grew during the 2017 session: While TRL adamantly supported a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortion, performed in the second trimester, TAL labeled the bill “reckless” because it wouldn’t stand constitutional muster. (Indeed, U.S. Federal Judge Lee Yeakel ruled against the law in November, calling it an unconstitutional “undue burden” on Texas women.) An even less humane amendment by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, attached to package anti-choice law SB 8 would have removed an exception to the state’s 20-week abortion ban that allows the procedure when the fetus has a severe abnormality (which could mean a stillbirth). TRL supported the measure while Pojman’s group didn’t, due again to its low likelihood of passing through the courts. The amendment proved too radical even for conservative politicians and failed to pass. Republican Burkett said the amendment “goes one step too far” while Rep. Byron Co, R-Corsicana, urged colleagues to vote against the proposal, saying it shows we are “willing to play God with people’s lives.” Both candidates were torched by TRL.
At the hearing, a stream of anti-choice speakers with Texas Alliance for Life, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, and Texas Right to Life applauded the measure as a move toward “dignity” and “respect,” and used graphic language to describe fetal disposal. “It is unconscionable to grind and flush an unborn child … like they’re mere medical waste,” said TAL’s Joe Pojman.
Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, called on abortion providers to pick up the “nominal” fees associated with burials or cremations, which the state health commission confirmed would be the responsibility of the provider, not the state.
State officials also called for an invite-only hearing before the Senate health committee to “examine the business practices and regulatory structure of Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas,” and to investigate whether state or federal laws are being bren by Planned Parenthood as it relates to the donation and/or sale of fetal tissue.”