Last week, Texas Right to Life released the 2017 Pro-Life Scorecard for the 85th Legislature, reflecting the votes of all members on Pro-Life and anti-Life measures from both the regular and special sessions. One of the key votes to protect Life was an amendment offered by Representative Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) that would have closed a loophole in Texas Pro-Life laws—the loophole that does not protect unborn children with disabilities from abortion.
During the passage of the Sonogram Law in 2011, the chair of the House Committee on State Affairs, Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) held the sonogram bill hostage until an exception was enacted into law that excludes unborn children with a disability from state protections afforded to other unborn children. Since 2011, Pro-Life members of the legislature have worked with Texas Right to Life to remove that exception, while Byron Cook has continued to push this loophole into every Pro-Life bill.
During this 2017 regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature, Representative Matt Schaefer, chairman of the Freedom Caucus in the Texas House, offered an amendment to close this deadly loophole when Senate Bill 8 was being debated on the House floor. Two political themes were at play in the Capitol during this amendment. First, not all Republican House members who profess Pro-Life views actually believe that all unborn children, regardless of health conditions, should be protected. The second political theme at play during this debate was that the amendment was offered by a member of the Texas Freedom Caucus, and therefore, the vote on the Schaefer amendment became a test of loyalty House leadership (Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and Byron Cook) versus loyalty to the Pro-Life cause.
When Representative Schaefer offered the amendment to Senate Bill 8, Byron Cook called on the House to table the Schaefer amendment, meaning Cook asked his colleagues to vote to set aside, and thereby kill, the amendment. Thus, Cook’s motion to table the Schaefer amendment was a hostile anti-Life amendment and stopped the Schaefer amendment from consideration as part of SB 8.
The final vote on Cook’s motion was 72-65, in favor of Cook and against protecting unborn children with disabilities. Nineteen Republicans joined with the Democrat Caucus to ignore Representative Schaefer’s Life-saving amendment.
Republicans who voted against the critical Pro-Life amendment:
|Ernest Bailes||Cindy Burkett||Angie Chen Button|
|Travis Clardy||Byron Cook||Drew Darby|
|Sarah Davis||Charlie Geren||Larry Gonzales|
|Lance Gooden||Kyle Kacal||Ken King|
|Linda Koop||Stan Lambert||Lyle Larson|
|Geanie Morrison||John Raney||Gary VanDeaver|
Eight of these nineteen Republicans took to the Journal of the Texas House Republicans (the official record of the Texas House of Representatives) in attempts to justify their horrendous actions on the Schaefer amendment. The statements made in the House Journal on the Schaefer amendment range from supposedly hitting the wrong button to being away from their desks; however, these excuses do not actually change the final vote count.
Tragically, had these members who switched their votes on the Schaefer amendment voted Pro-Life the first time, the amendment would have passed, and unborn children with disabilities would again be safe in the womb.
Some Republicans’ journal statements clarify their anti-Life stances. Representative Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) was absent when the initial vote on the House floor was taken, although this was an amendment to her own bill. Missing this vote is bad enough, but Burkett then went back to the journal to state that had she been at her desk, she would have voted for the Motion to Table, killing the Schaefer amendment.
Republicans who claimed they accidentally missed or voted against the amendment:
|Dennis Bonnen||Cindy Burkett||John Kuempel|
|Tan Parker||Four Price||Hugh Shine|
|Ron Simmons||Paul Workman|
Was hitting the green button vs the red button actually that difficult? Maybe, but likely not. Closing this tragic loophole in our state’s Pro-Life laws has been a fight at the state capitol in both 2013 and 2015, and Cook has been at the center of the battle even giving speeches defending the murder of these precious babies. Thus, the policy and the politics are not new to lawmakers in the Texas House. The vote changes reflect a feeble attempt to walk both sides of the cause – fidelity to the inept House management under Straus and fidelity to the Pro-Life cause.
Notably, Representative Four Price (R-Amarillo), who voted incorrectly then changed his vote, voted against this exact same amendment in 2015 when the Pro-Life policy was offered to his sunset bill for the Department of State Health Services, House Bill 2510. His consistency in voting against unborn children with disabilities speaks more loudly than a powerless statement made after the fact in the journal.
Although Texas Right to Life usually respects journal statements when caluclating the votes on Pro-Life matters, the vote on Cook’s Motion to Table the Schaefer amendment was too egregious to ignore. The Schaefer amendment would have passed, and the deadly loophole would have been closed if these Republicans would have voted Pro-Life when lives were on the line. Members of the Texas House of Representatives can stand with Straus and Cook or they can stand to protect all innocent human Life, especially the most vulnerable. The vote on the Schaefer amendment again demonstrates that House members can no longer serve both masters.