Some malcontents never seem to show gratitude for the tremendous pro-life gains achieved by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Joe Straus, and the many pro-life members of the Legislature. We see that in abundance this election cycle. Voters should be wary of dire “sky is falling” claims about how badly the Legislature performed. This is especially true when those claims are used to attack proven, pro-life leaders whom they have not endorsed for re-election.
Emily Kebodeaux Cook, the general counsel for Texas Right to Life, makes a particularly breathtaking mischaracterization of pro-life successes in Texas when she recently wrote:
. . .the continuation of liberal ‘Republican’ Joe Straus as Speaker of the Texas House and his like-minded committee chairmen (particularly Byron Cook from Corsicana) has caused the decline in the Texas Legislature’s efforts to protect human Life. While other states in recent years are increasing the number of strong Pro-Life laws, Texas is, at best, standing still.
Liberal? Decline? Standing still? Utter nonsense.
Here’s the reality.
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed more strong pro-life bills in a single session than ever before. And that is amazing given the tremendous successes achieved during the four years before that. Those achievements include defunding Planned Parenthood, passing the nation’s strongest sonogram bill, and authorizing the Choose Life license plate in 2011. Then in 2013, the Legislature continued to defund Planned Parenthood and passed HB 2 to ban abortions after five months and to dramatically increase abortion facility safety standards such that dozens of abortion facilities have closed rather than comply.
The Legislature continued the progress with a sensational session in 2015. They defunded Planned Parenthood another $1.3 million per year, increased funding for loving alternatives to abortion by 78%, and passed an impressive list of five strong pro-life bills that makes Texas the envy of pro-lifers in just about every other state. Those bills include:
- 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.
Those are just the highlights.
Here is a lengthy list of 11 significant gains achieved in 2015 that makes Texas one of only three states to earn the title “Life List All Star” from Americans United for Life.
We proudly note that abortions are in steep decline in the Lone Star State, plummeting by 15% between 2013 and 2014. Abortions on minor girls have dropped an astounding 32% since 2005 when then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the parental consent law. Meanwhile more than half of Texas’ abortion facilities — at least 25 — have closed since 2011. Planned Parenthood’s abortion facilities have gone from 14 to five, shuttered in many Texas cities, such as Abilene, Bryan, Lubbock, Midland, San Angelo, and Waco.
A law struck down in court can be worse than no law. It sets a bad precedent and allows the challengers to recover attorneys’ fees, often hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our laws have survived court challenges. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the sonogram law, the law and rules that defunded Planned Parenthood, and HB 2 twice. (The second ruling is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.)
Yet the naysayers cling to a nonsensical theory that the Legislature has not passed substantial pro-life laws in years, and Speaker Joe Straus and his lieutenants secretly want it that way. They remind us of members of a flat earth society who refuse to accept that the world is round. They speak as if Texas were California or New York where virtually nothing pro-life passes.
NEWS FLASH: This is Texas, not California or New York.
We have addressed the criticisms of Joe Straus before. To the apparent dismay of those who cling to the flat earth theory, we point out that the world is round and Joe Straus is pro-life, as evidenced by his actions and his words. You may want to read “8 False Claims about Joe Straus,” which debunks the most common bogus claims about Straus, or watch the video of Speaker Straus calling harvesting of body parts after abortion “abhorrent.”
Texas Right to Life’s bitter criticism of pro-life champion Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, are almost entirely without basis. Most of the pro-life bills passed in the last six years were a direct result of Mr. Cook’s pro-life leadership, including the five bills passed in 2015. His committee actually passed three more pro-life bills in 2015, two of which would have removed abortion from health insurance plans. All three were set on the House agenda but were not considered before the end of the session deadline.
It is no wonder that most state pro-life leaders and organizations praise and have endorsed Byron Cook. Those include Abby Johnson, Andrew Smith, Carol Everett of Life Network PAC, Kyleen Wright of Life PAC, Karen Garnett, and myself representing Texas Alliance for Life PAC.
The last perfect public leader died on the cross 2,000 year ago. No one since has matched up. Texas Alliance for Life does not support exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormality. We want to protect all unborn babies from abortion. However, we point out that reaching that goal is an incremental process.
Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, all endorsed by Texas Right to Life, had a rape or incest exception to their goal of banning all abortions. Byron Cook similarly spoke in favor of keeping the current “severe fetal abnormality” exception in law. That exception means that HB 2’s ban on abortions after five months does not apply to babies whose disability is so severe that the child will die before birth or shortly after birth with all available medical treatment. Examples are children developing without kidneys or anencephalic children, lacking most of their brain. The exception does not allow abortions of babies with Down syndrome, as Texas Right to Life’s misleading billboard suggests.
Where did that exception come from?
House Bill 2, a bill strongly supported by Texas Alliance for Life and all of the pro-life groups, including Texas Right to Life was passed in 2013 and contained this exception language. However, 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 an exception that allowed funding for abortions in cases of “severe fetal abnormality” defined as follows:
. . . 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.
The very fetal abnormality exception Texas Right to Life uses as a reason to oppose Byron Cook’s re-election today, is the same language they took credit for five years ago in 2011. 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.
No explanation has been offered for this apparent hypocrisy.
Byron Cook is a proven pro-life champion. Texas Alliance for Life believes that to misrepresent the achievements of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Joe Straus, Rep. Byron Cook, and the Legislature during the last six years only harms the pro-life movement and does a great disservice to voters.