Texas Lege Preview: The Only Exception in Post-Roe Texas

Legislators wrangle over birth control, rape, and travel

Photo via Getty Images

After the Lege enacted an abortion ban last session that made providing an abortion a felony – except to save the life of a mother – Texas went from thousands of aboveboard abortions per month to three lifesaving ones in August 2022. Doctors say the law is so unclear that they must wait until a patient is on the brink of death to be sure an abortion is considered lifesaving.

Voters could get the chance to repeal that 2021 ban, if the Lege passes either of two identical bills from Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin. To go with them, Talarico's filed another bill that would amend the Texas Constitution – pending voter approval – so the Lege couldn't pass laws limiting access to abortion care for patients who have consulted a physician.

More incrementally, Senate Bill 123 from Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would create several exceptions in cases of a lethal fetal anomaly or to preserve the pregnant patient's physical or mental health – all based on a doctor's best medical judgment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has provided the rape exception bill some Republicans have indicated that they would sign. House Bill 979 would allow abortions of pregnancies resulting from sexual assault, as defined by the penal code. The problem here will likely be enforcement – the bill specifies that the state would not require a criminal conviction or forensic evidence. Republicans will likely argue that this would create too wide a loophole, so anyone seeking an abortion could claim they were assaulted. But the alternative – requiring people impregnated by their rapists to prove it – is not only infeasible, but unconscionable. Then again, so is forcing them to carry the pregnancy, and the state's already doing that.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, has HB 787 to block businesses from receiving tax incentives if they help an employee get an abortion, including through funding travel. The witch hunts this would open up for any business involving out of state travel is pretty frightening and, Howard says, "a lot of businesses have real concerns about government overreach here." Another bill (HB 61) would ban municipalities from paying abortion-related travel expenses.

Oh, and you know how teens aren't allowed to receive birth control pills without parental consent? To address that blaring issue in post-Roe Texas, Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, and Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, have filed bills that would give minors the ability to consent to reversible contraception. Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, has the more narrow HB 682, which would allow minors to consent to contraception only if they are the mother of a child. Okay, better than nothing.

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