The abysmal results of the Regular Session of the 86th Legislature for Pro-Life policies necessarily means there are fewer Pro-Life Heroes than in normal, successful sessions. Most of the blame falls on the leadership of the House of Representatives; however, few legislators stood up to Speaker Dennis Bonnen when his subversion of Pro-Life Priorities became clear. Two elected officials do stand out, and have earned the Pro-Life movement’s gratitude: Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst in the State Senate, and Representative Jonathan Stickland in the State House.
Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)
Chairwoman Kolkhorst fought for Pro-Life legislation on every front. In addition to authoring one of Texas Right to Life’s priority Pro-Life bills, Kolkhorst was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, a central and busy committee. She did not waste this leadership role, and held a committee hearing for two Pro-Life priority bills: the Preborn NonDiscrimination Act (Senate Bill 1033) and reforming the anti-Life 10-Day Rule (Senate Bill 2089). The committee hearing lasted several hours and was filled with emotional, moving testimony from Texas families directly impacted by current anti-Life laws. Chairwoman Kolkhorst spent the entire day at the hearing and offered grace and compassion to the hundreds of witnesses who shared their heart-wrenching stories. Both bills passed out of her committee and the Senate as a whole, but died at the hands of House leadership.
Lastly, Kolkhorst served as Chair of the Article II Subcommittee for the Senate Committee on Finance, which writes the health and human services portion of the state budget for the biennium. Kolkhorst led two other Pro-Life Senators in the subcommittee Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Senator Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton). As the final version of the budget was debated in conference committee with the House, Kolkhorst fought to keep the life-affirming Alternatives to Abortion program funded at an increased level. For all of her leadership on behalf of preborn children, vulnerable patients, and pregnant women in Texas, Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst is a 2019 Pro-Life Hero.
Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford)
Yet again, the leadership of the House of Representatives was the Achilles’ heel for the Pro-Life movement in Texas this Session. While Texas Right to Life was cautiously optimistic about Speaker Dennis Bonnen and his chosen leadership team, the outcome of the Legislative Session for life-saving measures was a shocking disappointment. Although the Senate passed two Priority Pro-Life bills, the Texas House killed them in committee and only debated and passed one Pro-Life priority bill and one Pro-Life budget amendment. While disgraced Speaker Bonnen, who thankfully will be leaving office soon under a cloud of corruption, deserves the majority of the blame, too many representatives with previously impressive Pro-Life scores complied with Speaker Bonnen’s calculated plan to thwart Pro-Life bills.
Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) was a significant exception. He even chose to leave the Texas House Freedom Caucus because he worried the group of members had, intentionally or not, become enablers to House leadership that worked to keep “controversial bills” from the House floor. During multiple critical moments in the session, Representative Stickland fought for his Pro-Life principles against the biggest threats to Pro-Life priorities: House leadership and Republican apathy.
During the House’s debate on the state budget bill, several Pro-Life amendments were offered to increase funding to the life-affirming Alternatives to Abortion program. Representative Stickland’s amendment was the largest increase and was scheduled first for consideration, and his amendment was leveraged in negotiations. Partly because of Stickland’s record of not backing down, leadership agreed to fund the program at the level needed.
Similarly, when the House considered Senate Bill 22 (a bill that could have been substantially stronger), legislation prohibiting most state and local tax dollars from funding or benefiting abortion providers and their affiliates, Representative Stickland again filed a strengthening amendment to the bill. This time, every other Republican succumbed to pressure from House leadership and dropped or did not file their Pro-Life amendments to strenghten the bill.
Despite immense pressure from House leadership, Democrats, the sponsor of the bill, his fellow Pro-Life Republicans, and even the speaker of the House himself, to withdraw his amendment, Representative Stickland would not waver. Ultimately, this was the only amendment adopted onto SB 22, which clarified that the bill in no way prevents cities and counties from banning abortions within their jurisdictions. Shortly after the passage of SB 22 with the Stickland Amendment, many cities across Texas began working to introduce ordinances banning abortion within their city limits.
Texas Right to Life praises Chairwoman Kolkhorst and Representative Stickland for their work and courage in advancing the Pro-Life cause, as well as for using their voices and their votes to protect vulnerable Texans — born and preborn.