By: Caroline Kitchener
The Lilith Fund was founded in 2001, when Democratic legislators still held the Texas House.
Things were different then, said Joe Pojman, the executive director of another antiabortion group, Texas Alliance for Life. In the early 2000s, antiabortion groups in Texas weren’t nearly as effective as they are today. Only one antiabortion law passed in the state in 2001, compared to 10 in 2017 and five in 2019.
Pojman has been campaigning against abortion since 1987. That year, he started pushing for a law that required minors to notify their parents before they could have an abortion.
“They didn’t need permission, just notification,” he said. “It was a very modest law.”
Still, he said, it took 12 years to pass.
Since then, there have been ups and downs for the antiabortion movement in Texas, he said. He thought it had reached a turning point in 2013, when the legislature passed a law requiring all abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. When the law took effect, along with other restrictions on abortion clinics, approximately half of all abortion clinics in Texas were forced to close. The law made it all the way to the Supreme Court before it was struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Now, Pojman tries not to be overly optimistic. Texas Alliance for Life is “neutral” on the Heartbeat Act, he said, because he feels confident it won’t make it through the courts.
Other antiabortion lobbyists, like Seago, are not so cautious.
The mood is certainly far more hopeful this session, Pojman said as he looked around the Capitol Grill, the cafeteria inside the Texas Capitol. Conservative lawmakers and lobbyists had abandoned their masks, strategizing together over lunch.
After Republicans in Texas got clobbered in the 2018 elections, when former U.S. congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) coaxed new Democratic voters to the polls, “there was fear in the air,” Pojman said. When six other states passed six- or eight-week abortion bans in 2019, Republican legislators in Texas hung back, worried they might lose more seats if they came down hard on abortion.
All that changed after the 2020 election, Pojman said, when Democrats across the country fixated on turning Texas blue. Democratic money poured into the state — but Republicans only lost one seat, held by the lone Republican who supported abortion rights.
“That blue wave came into Texas, crashed on the rocks and went nowhere,” Pojman said.
This year, there is a mounting feeling that Texas should go big on antiabortion legislation, he said, to “show the Supreme Court that, down here in Texas, we’re pro-life.”
“The fear is gone,” he said — and legislators are willing to try anything.