84th Legislative Session retrospective

In spite of valiant efforts by committed Pro-Life leaders and unanimous support from grassroots Pro-Lifers to advance Texas Right to Life’s Pro-Life agenda during the recently adjourned 84th Session of the Texas Legislature, only one priority Pro-Life bill, House Bill 3994 (HB 3994), passed and is headed to Governor Abbott’s desk.  The state’s budget bill included some new Pro-Life rules and restrictions, and one other bill that should protect patients from involuntary dehydration and starvation will also soon take effect.

HB 3994 by Representative Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) and Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) substantially reformed the judicial process by which a pregnant teen may petition a judge for permission to undergo an abortion without parental knowledge or consent.  Until now, pregnant teens have been ushered through the court system by attorneys often affiliated with the abortion industry; HB 3994 closes those loopholes and applies additional protections for minors – especially those suffering from sexual and physical abuse.  (The full list of reforms included in HB 3994 can be found at TexasRightToLife.com.)

House Bill 3074 (HB 3074), authored by Representative Drew Springer (R-Gatesville), marks the very first step in the protracted battle to protect hospitalized Texans.  Since the 1999 passage of the Texas Advance Directives Act, countless patients have been victimized by the removal of life-sustaining medical treatment, including nutrition and hydration, by the order of a physician.  Texas Right to Life has advocated for over one hundred of these patients who are fighting for their lives against hospital committees that have deemed their lives valueless and futile.  HB 3074 corrects just one of myriad issues so that committees and physicians are no longer allowed to withdraw artificially-administered nutrition and hydration without the express permission of the patient or patient’s surrogate unless food and water would adversely impact the patient’s physical health.  Representative Springer was diligent in working with Texas Right to Life to narrowly craft the language of his bill.

The state’s budget bill, House Bill 1 (HB 1), now more than ever protects taxpayers from padding the abortion industry’s coffers.  However, one budget initiative that was struck from HB 1 in the conference committee would have protected taxpayers from paying for the destruction of human embryos for the purposes of scientific research.

Two of the budget amendments that were successfully kept on the budget pertained to public school sex education programs.  Amendment 53, by Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano), removes taxpayer funding of the abortion industry by eliminating abortion providers and their affiliates from sex ed programs either through selling their curricula to schools or teaching such programs.  Amendment 54, by Representative Molly White (R-Belton), clarifies that sex education programs must be abstinence-based according to existing federal guidelines, which are stronger than state guidelines.  Both these amendments ensure that Texas children and teens are safeguarded from pro-abortion sex education and that taxpayers are not giving free marketing and a new customer base to the abortion industry through public schools.

Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) restructured the funding of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program to exclude abortion providers.  In 2014, Texas Right to Life identified $1.2 million that Planned Parenthood had been quietly, surreptitiously siphoning from the screening program even though Planned Parenthood facilities have no equipment whatsoever to provide mammograms for the detection of breast cancer.  Through the budget reform spearheaded by Texas Right to Life, Planned Parenthood is no longer qualified as a primary provider to participate in the program and has consequently lost access to $1.2 million of our taxpayer dollars.

The last hard fought victory on HB 1 was the increase of funding to the state’s program for Alternatives to Abortion Program, which is a network of maternity homes, adoption agencies, pregnancy centers, and social services that provide life-affirming support and assistance to pregnant women and new mothers in Texas.  Although some in House leadership promised an additional increase, House leadership kept the increase to $8 million for the 2016-2017 biennium.  Despite going back on their word, an expansion of services to pregnant women is still expected.

Although Texas Right to Life’s five priority Pro-Life bills were filed, discussed, and received overwhelming support by House members through co-authorships, only one received a hearing in the House late in the session, and even that bill, House Bill 1648, was so watered-down at the orders of the committee chair, Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), that the bill was no longer worth pursuing at the late date.

Another dramatic failure of House leadership during the 84th Session is the killing of Senate Bill 575 (SB 575).  Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) passed this strong bill to remove all insurance coverage for abortion, but Chairman Byron Cook refused to act on SB 575, stalling the bill for two weeks in his committee.  Cook then demanded a weakening provision before moving the bill out of his House Committee on State Affairs.  Cook and the committee did finally move the weaker version of the bill on the very last day possible for the vote, setting SB 575 up for an easy kill by Democrats and moderate Republicans.  While Chairman Cook blamed the Democrats for SB 575’s death, he is fully responsible.  The blood of the innocents now stains his hands.

Because of the hard work and tenacity of Representative Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) who chairs the Republican Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives, HB 3994, HB 3074, and HB 1 all include Texas Right to Life’s iron-clad language, but this would not have happened without Chairman Parker relentlessly driving for stout Pro-Life measures that will save lives.

While the Pro-Life movement celebrates our few hard-fought victories, the wins are soured by the vicious games and attacks orchestrated by some in House leadership to kill and stifle many other Pro-Life measures, which would have easily passed on the House floor and in the Senate –if they were only allowed a vote.  Republicans hold almost two-thirds majorities in both chambers.  Multiple, substantial Pro-Life bills should have sailed through the House and on to Governor Abbott for a signature.

The 84th Session of the Texas Legislature ultimately proved that the few Republicans who control the Texas House of Representatives view Pro-Life issues as optional political props.  Protecting Life is a moral priority for most Texans, especially the primary voters who sent these lukewarm men and women to Austin to enact policies that reflect their values. 

Thank you for your constant prayers and support that yielded some fruit during this very difficult 84th Session of the Texas Legislature.  For the sake of the innocents, the next election cycle will be key to ensuring that the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature is a sensational one.

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