Despite landing herself a spot on Texas Right to Life’s Dishonorable Mentions List, current State Representative Debbie Riddle trumpets a certain bill as bolstering her Pro-Life credentials.
Keen Pro-Life observers have been disappointed with Representative Riddle for several years now due to her bleak 55% Pro-Life voting record in 2013 and public blunder of single-handedly killing a top Priority Pro-Life Bill in 2015 at the last minute of the legislative session. Read the details of her fatal vote on SB 575 here. In 2015, Representative Riddle carried what was marketed as a Pro-Life bill: House Bill 416.
For several sessions, Texas Right to Life has made prohibiting and stopping coercing a woman into an abortion in Texas a legislative priority. Efforts in 2015 were no different. Pro-Life Hero Representative Molly White filed and fought for House Bill 1648, a strong bill with clear definitions, multiple enforcement mechanisms, and reporting requirements that would have held the abortion industry accountable for victimized mothers who are forced into their abortion mills.
Sadly, one of the legislative strategies employed by our apathetic Republican leadership in the House was to copy Texas Right to Life’s strong bills and file weaker versions, claiming the latter to be “Pro-Life.” In reality, these weak bills were little more than political cover and an opportunity for show votes. In reality, political cover is what HB 416 was; Representative Riddle’s House Bill 416 was a sham.
House Bill 416 appeared to be directed at a serious problem in Texas, human trafficking, but was entirely lacking substance. In the end, HB 416 would not save a single preborn life or protect one vulnerable pregnant mother in Texas. The legislation theoretically required some abortion workers and volunteers at abortion clinics to undergo a one-time training on human trafficking hosted and taught by government bureaucrats. There were no penalties for violation, no enforcement mechanism to ensure workers and volunteers were actually trained, no requirement that abortion clinics keep records of who had received training and when. Furthermore, there was no specification for the curriculum to be used in the training. Worst of all, HB 416 did not even require abortion workers and volunteers to screen women for trafficking or offer help to trafficked women, such as giving victims access to a phone in a private room or alerting law enforcement of suspected trafficking.
Texas Right to Life held conversations with elected officials about the errors in House Bill 416, but also publicly testified twice about the weaknesses of the policy. Although trafficked women are coerced to have abortions as a means of covering up trafficking, House Bill 416 did not address abortion coercion at all. Riddle’s bill lacked the law enforcement provisions to protect women from coercion or trafficking.
Riddle not only failed to act on policy recommendations to strengthen the bill, but adamantly refused efforts when multiple Pro-Life representatives attempted to strengthen her bill through amendments on the House floor. Riddle opposed these Pro-Life efforts, instead accepting an amendment from two anti-Life Democrats (Representatives Helen Giddings and Senfronia Thompson).
On the House floor, a few Pro-Life Representatives were frustrated with Riddle’s opposition to Pro-Life amendments. In an attempt to understand her position and publicly ask questions from the back microphone, Representative Molly White questioned Riddle on exactly how HB 416 was going to help women being forced into abortions. Riddle dodged the question. Representative White had fought House Leadership all session to shepherd an anti-coercion bill through House State Affairs Committee and the death grip of Chairman Byron Cook.
Longtime Pro-Life champion Representative Bill Zedler then asked if there were any reporting requirements or penalties for not reporting suspected human trafficking. Riddle admitted the weakness of her bill that she preferred not to address and answered, “To be candid with you, there’s not anything in here that would be termed as punishment if they don’t [report].”
After Representative Zedler again inquired as to what HB 416 would do if the abortion clinic refused to report coercion or human trafficking, Riddle, continuing in her opposition to strengthen her bill, responded, “Representative Zedler, this bill is about human trafficking…this is about training.”
This consistent opposition to improving House Bill 416 and her duplicity about the “Pro-Life” measure is not just frustrating; her actions were politically dangerous to the Pro-Life movement. The Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days. Elected officials have only a very small window in which to pass life-saving legislation, yet when useless and weak bills like HB 416 are trumpeted as being an important Pro-Life policy, such tactics delay and kill policies with strong enforcement mechanisms that would actually save human lives. The liberal House leadership was looking for easy bills to pass that could be advertised as Pro-Life victories to avoid criticism during campaign season. In reality, House leadership, and those who support such politicians, are guilty of hindering and single-handedly killing countless substantive and consequential bills desperately needed in Texas. The Pro-Life cause in Texas is too important for political cover and show votes.
Texas Right to Life cannot with good conscience support an elected official whose rhetoric does not match her record. Not only did Riddle kill a priority Pro-Life bill, but her repeated refusal to amend House Bill 416 shows her efforts were more about political theater and protecting the Republican establishment than actually protecting pregnant mothers and seeking to save lives.