In conjunction with the 2017 Pro-Life Scorecard for the Regular and Special Sessions of the 85th Texas Legislature, Texas Right to Life published a 2017 Pro-Life Heroes list and a 2017 Disappointments List, highlighting specific legislators. This article is part of an ongoing series to explain how specific elected officials earned the title as a Pro-Life Hero or a Disappointment.
As Chair of the powerful House Committee on State Affairs under Speaker Joe Straus, Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) was the sole gatekeeper for Pro-Life bills. Before Cook was chair of that committee, Pro-Life bills were referred to more subject-appropriate committees, such as patient protection measures to the House Committee on Public Health, insurance coverage of abortions to the House Committee on Insurance, and judicial protections for pregnant minors to the House Committee on Judicial Affairs. However, once Cook was appointed Chair, he systematically sunk his talons into all bills relating to Pro-Life issues, keeping them in his committee regardless of related subject matter.
Cook’s tyrannical governing style in Austin is worlds apart from his campaign image. He used his position as Chairman of State Affairs to move weak, non-controversial bills through the legislative process while strong life-saving bills died in State Affairs. Additionally, Cook insisted that every major abortion policy leaving his committee included a cruel loophole exempting unborn children with disabilities from Pro-Life protections. In other words, Cook insisted that babies with congenital challenges could be aborted, rather than safeguarded under the new laws before him. Because of Cook’s twisted thinking, these children, who often already face a short life expectancy, are in danger of discriminatory abortion up until the moment of birth in Texas.
Cook has relentlessly fought to protect this appalling loophole that leaves preborn children with disabilities without any legal protections whatsoever in Texas. In 2015 and 2017, amendments were offered by Representative Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) to protect these vulnerable children, but both times Cook publicly stood against the measure. In 2015, Cook wrote a letter opposing the Schaefer amendment. In 2017, Cook again spoke against, claiming that protecting these vulnerable preborn children would be “playing God.”
Not only would Cook not protect preborn children with disabilities, but he also would not ban abortion by dismemberment. Dismemberment abortion is a second-trimester procedure through which fully formed, living children are torn limb from limb from their mothers’ wombs for profit. Byron Cook would not stop this gruesome and inhumane procedure. In fact, he would never set the bill for a hearing in the State Affairs Committee, thereby killing the ban.
Thankfully, Pro-Life Heroes like Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) worked around Byron and brought the policy to the House floor as an amendment to another bill. Cook’s duplicity was revealed, when he actually voted in favor of the policy he had refused to even hear, rather than face his voters and defend his opposition to the barbaric abortion procedure.
When Dr. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) filed a bill to require patient or surrogate consent for Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders for hospitalized patients, Cook worked to kill this basic patient protection, too. When Cook finally scheduled a hearing in April, several families drove to Austin from around the state to share heartbreaking personal stories of forced and secret DNRs. Cook was more interested in the opinion of hospital’s lobbyists, and Cook demanded that Dr. Bonnen take time to redraft weakening amendments into the bill before moving the bill out of committee. By that time, the regular session was almost over and the bill died without reaching the floor, even though Dr. Bonnen, through herculean efforts, had built stakeholder consensus with agreed-upon language.
Later, when Governor Greg Abbott added this issue of protecting patients from unauthorized Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders issue to the agenda for the special session, Cook insisted the measure be negotiated again. The move to ignore the written consensus by stakeholders was another deliberate effort to sabotage the bill during the short 30-day special session, effectively giving several disingenuous organizations veto power. Without the Senate’s quick passage of the bill and Governor Abbott’s office bringing Cook into line, the DNR-Consent bill would not have passed during the special session.
To the delight and relief of the Pro-Life movement, Cook announced in late October that he would not be seeking reelection to the House. Pro-Lifers in Texas must not become complacent, lest more of the same obstructionist leaders rise to power in the Texas House. Byron Cook is a 2017 Pro-Life Disappointment, but the real tragedy would be another chair of State Affairs in his mold.
Cook’s full scorecard is featured here along with the commentary on how he voted on each individual Pro-Life public vote scored by Texas Right to Life.