Back in Texas’ Court: SCOTUS rulings force lawmakers to revisit civil statutes, abortion regulations
January 10th, 2017 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
AUSTIN—The legal ramifications of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and continuing debates over education and women’s privacy highlight some of the bills pro-family organizations will champion during the 85th Texas Legislature session, which opened January 10.
Since the last Texas legislative session ended in May 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down marriage laws in Texas and across the nation and declared a portion of Texas’ 2013 pro-life legislation unconstitutional. Those legislative setbacks and the advancing cultural agenda of gay, lesbian and transgender advocates have made some pro-life and religious liberty advocates more determined to advance legislation that recognizes the fundamental humanity of the unborn and also bills that push back against threats to the First Amendment.
Before the opening gavel, hundreds of bills had already been filed and more will be added to the que. Public policy advisors warn conservative Christians can’t rest on their laurels with the November wins in the White House and Congress. Now, more than ever, federal and states legislators must be held to account, said Dana Hodges, director of Concerned Women for America (CWA) of Texas.
“You can’t turn your back for a moment,” Hodges told the TEXAN.
Abortion and LGBT advocates, emboldened by the high court rulings, are pressing to advance their causes. Abortion-rights activists have vowed to oppose any efforts to “humanize” the fetus, while LGBT advocates in the legislature and the Texas Business Association (TAB) are already pressing the cultural envelope beyond gay marriage to include civil protections covering gender identity.
A privacy act protecting women and children tops the CWA priority list, Hodges said. Such a bill would establish a uniform public accommodation law that requires people use the restroom and private changing facilities that correspond with their biological sex. A similar law in North Carolina applies to public buildings only, allowing private businesses to establish their own policies.
LGBT activists inside and outside North Carolina called the bill bigoted and have demanded its repeal.
In Texas, TAB President Chris Wallace started that mantra before a bill was filed. As in the previous session TAB claims passage of “discriminatory legislation” would bring economic ruin upon the state. The group cites a report it commissioned from St. Edwards University in Austin that Hodges called “farfetched” and full of suppositions.
Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, agreed. In a press release he questioned the disparate extrapolation of information, some unsubstantiated, that led to the dire prognostication.
“This is indeed part ‘fake’ news, and the St. Edward’s University study should not be relying on misleading data prior to the filing of the actual bills,” he wrote. “Any study that ranges from a $964 million impact up to an $8.5 billion one, almost a 9 to 1 ratio, is just wildly speculative.”
For Hodges, the issue is personal. She was a sexually naïve 15-year-old when she was raped on a date. The boy threatened her if she told anyone.
She said it is unconscionable for business lobbies to push for passage of laws that allow biological men into the women’s private facilities and puts women and children at risk of sexual assault or voyeuristic violations.
“They are putting the almighty dollar before the safety of women and children,” she said.
Some policies already passed in Texas cities and school districts prohibit a proprietor from questioning an individual about their choice of public bathroom. Individuals are not required to present themselves as members of the opposite sex in order to gain access to the desired restroom, which opens those facilities to sexual predators who will take advantage of the policies, critics contend.
Public accommodation laws also conflict with First Amendment protections of speech and religious liberty. The reintroduction of religious liberty legislation that failed to get a hearing last session is also high on the CWA agenda.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring states to recognize same-sex marriages impacts state civil statutes related to marriage including fostering and adopting children. Agencies that affirm a biblical view of marriage face the threat of lawsuits if they decline service to married same-sex couples.
Hodges said the state risks losing faith-based foster homes and agencies if they are forced to place children in the homes of same-sex couples. Some, she said, may choose to close down rather than violate their convictions.
Another potentially divisive issue—educational choice—is one Hodges said CWA would examine closely before endorsing. Instead, addressing curriculum deficiencies would forestall the need for school vouchers she said.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that gutted Texas’ pro-life legislation has made pro-life advocates “even more determined to fight,” Emily Horne, Texas Right to Life legislative assistant, told the TEXAN.
Texas Right to Life supports passage of legislation that removes abortion coverage from basic insurance plans and prohibits abortions based on sex or disability. Pro-life legislation includes bills that protect hospital patients from involuntary do-not-resuscitate orders and the removal of life-sustaining care.
At the top of the organization’s agenda this session is affirmation of the basic dignity of the human fetus. Two key bills are already receiving pushback from Planned Parenthood and their allies. One, the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, seeks to “outlaw the torturous and inhumane abortion procedure that ends the life of the child by removing their limbs,” Horne said.
Another law, Senate Bill 8, would end the practice of fetal tissue donation by abortion clinics. The practice was brought to light by undercover videos shot by citizen activist David Daleiden.
House Bill 201 requires the burial or cremation of babies who die as a result of abortion or miscarriage. The Texas Department of State Health and Services created a similar regulation. Pro-choice advocacy organization Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit to halt implementation of the regulation before it went into effect Dec. 19.
“Both [bills] are pro-life in that they give dignity to the unborn and endeavor to afford them the same treatment as other humans would receive” Horne said. “However, they miss the crucial element of saving the lives of children destined for abortion.”