On Thursday, two Texas Republicans announced a bill related to late-term abortion – one of the most politically contentious topics in the Lone Star State, if not the country. House Bill 16, filed by Rep. Jeff Leach, with support from Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, would penalize a doctor for “failing to provide the appropriate medical treatment” if a child is born alive after an attempted abortion. During an announcement at the Capitol Thursday, Leach said, “the Texas Legislature cannot and will not remain silent.” In a statement responding to the announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott praised the lawmakers for their work, and bemoaned what he called the “growing support for infanticide.”
Rebecca Deen, associate professor of political science and department chair at The University of Texas at Arlington, says recent increases in access to late-term abortions in New York and Virginia have brought attention, once again, to the issue. But she says more than that, the bill is politically motivated.
“It’s a good way to gin up supporters for both sides of the issue,” Deen says.
In Texas, late-term abortions are illegal. What’s more, Deen says Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
“There are a variety of ways that our laws are more conservative,” Deen says. “Things like requireing sonograms 24 hours before the procedure, in abortions earlier in the term.”
She says the bill is a way for Republicans to get Texas Democrats on the record, potentially voting against a bill that’s called the Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act.
“Especially Democrats who are in either seats the Republicans hope they can take back, or seats that the Republicans currently hold but they’re afraid, perhaps, because they won by close margins in the last election,” Deen says.
Deen says the bill is a way for Texas Republicans to galvanize their base of supporters through an issue about which many Republicans have strong opinions.
“I think that this is about turnout,” Deen says. “I think that the Republicans are hoping that this is such an important issue for their base that it reminds their base that they are hard at work for them in the legislature, and that they should continue to stick with them and turn out.”
She says it’s unlikely Republicans would regain the support of so-called suburban moms with this bill – a group that has historically been Republican in Texas, but many of whom voted for Democrats during the 2018 midterms.
“[They] might be a little more moderate on some of these social issues. I don’t think it’s about trying to get them,” Deen says.
By nature of its low bill number, HB 16, the infant protection act will get higher priority than other bills. But whether it would derail the legislature’s other priorities – namely property taxes and education – Deen says that depends on Democrats.
“Once you have more of them, it’s hard to keep everybody on the same page,” Deen says. “And, you know, there’s some diversity within the Democratic caucus. So I think it just depends on how much of a fight they want to put up.“
HB 16 isn’t the only bill of its kind this session. Deen says some Democrats have filed legislation with opposite goals to that of House Republicans. But she says Democrats will likely be more successful if they advocate for legislation that’s focused more on women’s health rather than specifically on abortion.
“For example, expanding postpartum care on Medicaid from two months to a year, automatically moving kids over when they age out of CHIP to Medicaid, those sorts of things,” Deen says.
Written by Caroline Covington.