ELVING: On a national scale, it’s at odds with the clear majority. The clear majority supports abortion or abortion with some restrictions. But it does fit the mood in some states. Now, the Texas Alliance for Life organization that’s calling the tune now in the nation’s second most populous state, this group says it wants to end abortion even before six weeks, right up to the point of conception. So we are at a crossroads. Support for abortion may grow with generational change – a lot of indication of that. But right now, the most dedicated anti-abortion advocates have the upper hand in much of the country based on their electoral success.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This has been one of the most consequential weeks in decades for abortion rights in America. The Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene in a Texas law banning most abortions suddenly imposed the most stringent limits in the U.S. on the procedure. We spoke yesterday with an abortion rights advocate in Texas, and we’re joined now by Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life.
Thanks for being here.
JOE POJMAN: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Some people have described the Supreme Court’s action this week as a de facto reversal of Roe v. Wade. Is that how you see it?
POJMAN: Not at all. I think this is very preliminary. I think the Supreme Court is just allowing the law to stay in effect for a matter of days or perhaps weeks while those procedural issues are being sorted out by the lower court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
SHAPIRO: We spoke yesterday, as I mentioned, with an abortion rights advocate in Texas, Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, and I’d like to play you part of the exchange she had with my co-host, Mary Louise Kelly. Mary Louise asked whether links to resources on the Whole Woman’s Health website could be grounds for a lawsuit, and here’s what Miller said.
AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: We understand that some of that might be framed as aiding and abetting. I think it’s interesting they’re already trying to criminalize that, even the language they’re using. But all of that information is available in the public domain.
SHAPIRO: From where you sit, Joe Pojman, do you view that as a violation of the law?
POJMAN: Probably not. It’s not so clear how that’s going to shake out. And again, a lot has to be determined by the courts. But if they are referring for helping someone get an abortion in Texas, that’s what the law is intended to address. Out of state, it’s not so clear.
SHAPIRO: The specific enforcement mechanism of the law is very unusual. People who successfully bring lawsuits get $10,000 and their attorney fees covered, and abortion rights advocates say this will create an aggressive industry of anti-abortion bounty hunters. Is that your intention?
POJMAN: The – I think the Legislature in Texas was very frustrated because similar laws that amount to a ban on abortion before the baby’s viable – in other words, can live outside the womb if born alive – those have always been blocked by the federal and state courts. The Legislature was looking for a new approach. And while many state laws do have civil liability to some extent – typically, the grandparents or the mother or father could sue – this is a whole new level. No one’s tried anything like this. So we’re going to have to see how the courts handle it.
SHAPIRO: Well, that explains why you would allow individuals to bring lawsuits – it helps to avoid the law being overturned by the courts. But it doesn’t explain the $10,000 reward for successful cases. And these cases can be brought by people outside of Texas. This is what leads people to say it’s going to create an industry of bounty hunters. Do you support that provision?
POJMAN: Our goal and the goal in the state of Texas is to protect as many unborn babies from what we think as the tragedy of abortion. So we’re going to have to see how this shakes out.
SHAPIRO: I mean, do you think that there will be what people have described as bounty hunters, and do you think that’s a good thing?
POJMAN: The goal of the bill is to protect babies from abortion, and hopefully there will just be universal compliance, and there won’t be any lawsuits have to be filed at that point.
SHAPIRO: You say hopefully there will be universal compliance, but already there is a website called Pro Life Whistleblowers encouraging people to send in anonymous tips. Can you tell how many of these are in good faith and how many come from your opponents who have been telling people to flood the site with bad information?
POJMAN: Yeah, I have no information. You know, and just honestly, our organization has not gotten involved in any of the enforcement challenges. So we’re not going to be involved in that type of litigation.
SHAPIRO: Even some abortion rights opponents have expressed concern that this law does not include any exceptions for rape or incest. Was that something that your group debated? Tell us about the reasons for it.
POJMAN: Oh, we have supported protection for the unborn child, even if that child is created in the act of rape. Rape is a terrible crime. It’s an assault against the woman or – same for incest. But we think the best thing for all parties involved, including the unborn child and the mother, is for the state of Texas and any number of organizations to encourage her to give birth to that child; keep the child herself if she wishes or place that child for adoption.
SHAPIRO: I just want to clarify – you believe that asking a woman who has experienced rape or incest to carry the pregnancy to term is not only in the best interests of the child but also the best interests of the mother?
POJMAN: We really do. And women who have been involved in our organization, who have been impregnated as rape, have given birth to the child, sometimes placed for adoption, sometimes keeping the child for themselves, and they really believe that was the best option for themselves, as well as the unborn child. And we really agree with that.
SHAPIRO: I hear your hesitation about whether this is likely to stand, and you’re saying you still need to let the courts work it out, and you’re being cautious. Abortion rights groups say, look; this is the most conservative Supreme Court in more than a generation. It’s only a matter of time until they overturn Roe v. Wade, and they don’t look likely to strike down this Texas law, either. Is that how you see it?
POJMAN: Our goal is that the Supreme Court will change what we consider to be the terrible Roe v. Wade precedent that ties the hands of the state legislatures. Our goal is that unborn children in Texas and throughout the country will someday be protected from abortion up to the moment of conception, fertilization. When that happens, we have hope and prayed for decades. We will have to see how the Supreme Court handles this in the coming term.
SHAPIRO: Joe Pojman is executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life.
Thank you very much.
POJMAN: Thank you.
Thousands of anti-abortion Texans are expected to rally on the steps of the state Capitol on Saturday for the Texas Rally for Life, an event recognizing the 45th anniversary of what they consider the “tragic” Roe v. Wade decision.
But as attendees mourn the U.S. Supreme Court case that ensured a right to a legal abortion, they’ll also celebrate. This past year, they say, has brought “sensational” gains for their movement.
Those gains have come at both the federal and state level. President Donald Trump named a conservative justice to the Supreme Court and many more conservatives to lower federal courts across the country. And in his first week in office, Trump’s administration re-established the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy, stopping international nongovernmental organizations that promote or provide abortions from receiving federal funding.
Meanwhile, the Republican-led Texas Legislature approved a slew of anti-abortion bills that were signed into law by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, the keynote speaker at Saturday’s event. Those bills include measures requiring a woman to pay a separate health insurance premium to get coverage for non-emergency abortions and banning second trimester dilation and evacuation abortions. A bill requiring health providers to bury or cremate remains from abortions remains tied up in court.
The website publicizing the weekend rally sums up the excitement. “Your presence will reaffirm recent sensational pro-life gains accomplished the state legislative sessions in 2017,” it says.
Several abortion rights groups declined to comment for this story. But they have argued that Texas leaders have made the state less safe for women.
“Texas women deserve access to the health care that is best for them and their personal circumstances — not abortion restrictions pushed by extreme anti-abortion organizations,” said Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, after one sweeping abortion measure passed through the Texas Legislature this year.
But attempts by lawmakers to fight abortion in Texas are nothing new. The biggest changes for anti-abortion activists have come at the federal level. During the 45th Annual March for Life in Washington this month, Trump became the first sitting president to address the annual rally live via video, a move that excited anti-abortion Texans. That kind of attention has made Trump’s presidency especially popular in the anti-abortion movement.
“He has nominated judges who respect the Constitution as it’s written,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “We are very pleased with the work the president and the vice president have been doing.”
But Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said the new reporting requirements are inadequate. Along with the governor, he wants to see that data-collection system expanded to include reporting for complications during an abortion.
“This bill would simply require hospitals who treat a woman for an abortion complication or … the physician who performs an abortion and causes a complication … to report that to the state,” he said.
Pojman said he suspects that abortion complications are being underreported and this would allow the state to get a sense of whether there are problems.
“It may be that the number of complications is sufficient to increase the safety standards of abortion facilities,” he said. “If so, this law should tell us that.”
Pojman argued anyone who pays insurance premiums is paying into a system that covers other people’s abortions.
“This is about the State of Texas protecting individuals from having to fund abortions for someone else through their health insurance premiums,” he said.
“The Hyde Amendment is not adequate,” said Joe Pojman, executive director for Texas Alliance for Life, referring to a law Congress passed in the 1970s that prohibits federal taxpayer dollars for paying for abortions.
Pojman said he wants to see stronger legislation.
“It is possible under current law for certain cities or counties to make contracts with abortion providers – even for abortions themselves – and for affiliates of abortion providers,” he said. “And we think that’s essentially funding the abortion industry.”