The 85th Session of the Texas Legislature brought two substantial Pro-Life victories because of the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the Texas Senate, and the tenacity of the Freedom Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the 85th Session was marred by duplicity, apathy, and obstructionism from the leadership in the Texas House. However, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick prioritized and passed life-saving legislation in March, then he and the senators sought to revive Pro-Life measures killed by the House at the eleventh-hour. Furthermore, the 12-member House Freedom Caucus relentlessly worked to secure victories on the House floor through amendments and political negotiations.
Approved SB 8 with ban on dismemberment abortions
In March the Senate passed the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, Senate Bill 415 by Senator Charles Perry; SB 415 was Texas Right to Life’s top legislative priority. This critical life-saving bill prohibits the barbaric and gruesome practice of ripping a fully formed unborn child limb from limb in the second trimester of pregnancy. After receiving unprecedented support from 8,000 delegates to the 2016 Republican Party of Texas Convention, passing the Senate in March with every Republican’s vote, receiving public support from Attorney General Ken Paxton, and having more than 70 representatives co-author the bill, Byron Cook singlehandedly killed the Dismemberment Abortion Ban by refusing to even give the bill a hearing in the House Committee on State Affairs, which he chairs.
When Senate Bill 8 finally reached the floor of the Texas House on May 12, Pro-Life House members and the House Freedom Caucus worked around leadership to strengthen SB 8 with life-saving amendments. Representative Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) amended the Dismemberment Abortion Ban onto SB 8 by a vote of 92-42; Representative Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) enhanced the current reporting requirements on abortion through an amendment that won by 90-47; and other life-saving amendments were also added that make SB 8 a truly life-saving victory. The amended version of SB 8, which mirrored the federal law on banning partial birth abortion established rules for fetal tissue research and the handling of the bodies of victims of abortion. SB 8 returned to the Texas Senate, where the Senate accepted the strengthened, amended version of the bill, marking a tremendous victory for the Pro-Life movement.
Two Pro-Life victories in the budget
Texas Right to Life and conservative members Representatives Mike Schofield, Matt Krause, and Matt Rinaldi spearheaded the Pro-Life efforts on the state’s budget, Senate Bill 1. During floor debate in the House, Representatives Schofield and Krause increased funding for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, a statewide social services network of adoption agencies, maternity homes, and pregnancies centers, established in every health region of the state. This program is currently underfunded and holds unpaid invoices from serving pregnant women and their children—both born and unborn. The SB 1 conferees moved the A2A increase to a contingency rider, authorizing HHSC to spend an additional $20 million in funding once the allocated $18.3 million is spent. This contingency will foster the current growth rate of the program, broaden services to more women and their children, expand into underserved areas, and increase the number of qualified providers who are currently waitlisted to join the network.
Representatives Matt Rinaldi, Matt Schaefer, and Drew Springer collaborated on a budget-wide patch to plug the holes through which abortion providers and their affiliates still receive state funding. By only limiting rules of specific programs, the state of Texas has been playing a protracted game of whack-a-mole with Planned Parenthood and their affiliates. The Texas House adopted a strong funding patch to disqualify all abortion providers and affiliates from taxpayer dollars. This most recent Conference Committee Report included the funding patch so that taxpayer dollars do not flow to the abortion mills and their affiliated clinics that refer women for abortions. This budget-wide protection marks another step in Texas Right to Life’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry in Texas.
In the last week of the 85th Session, these two provisions had been stripped from SB 1. Again Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Senator Bryan Hughes, and the House Freedom Caucus successfully worked to restore these Pro-Life provisions in SB 1.
House killed Pro-Life Insurance Reform
Although Senator Larry Taylor successfully passed Senate Bill 20 out of the Senate, Pro-Life Insurance Reform was killed in the House. On May 15, Senator Taylor amended his SB 20 onto another bill about insurance reporting, House Bill 3124, but House leadership ruled this amendment as non-germane and rejected Pro-Life Insurance Reform.
House killed reporting of abortion complications
House Bill 2962 codified reporting of abortion complications. When HB 2962 reached the Senate, Senator Bryan Hughes added language to require data collection on how minors seek abortions. This important data point would have enabled the Legislature to further protect minors from secret abortions. The Hughes amendment to HB 2962 also authorized the State Health Department to keep statistics on the abortionists who cause complications. Again, the amended HB 2962 was rejected by the Texas House, killing the reporting reform and HB 2962 altogether.
House killed priority DNR bill
Dr. Greg Bonnen, a Republican representative from Galveston County, filed HB 2063 to explicitly require patient or surrogate consent in most circumstances before a Do-Not-Rusticate order can be authorized for a patient. After months of delays, HB 2063 was finally heard in the House Committee on State Affairs. But Byron Cook waited four weeks to move the bill to the Committee on Calendars, where HB 2063 was intentionally set too late to pass.
Freedom Caucus and Senate protected the conscience rights of pharmacists
In House Bill 2561 to reauthorize the governing board of pharmacists in Texas, members of the House Freedom Caucus added language to protect the religious liberty of pharmacists who elect not to prescribe drugs against their sincerely-held religious convictions, such as abortion-inducing drugs or abortifacients. The religious liberty exemption was weakened during the legislative process, but the Senate restored this protection.
After a full session of duplicitous leadership in the Texas House of Representatives, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate had no other choice than to take bold, aggressive action to protect the lives of countless Texans—born and unborn. Without the Lieutenant Governor and the House Freedom Caucus, substantial victories for Life would not have been possible.