Eleanor Klibanoff

Texas Republicans are trying to sidestep abortion after Roe's demise

For decades, the abortion battle lines in the Texas Legislature were as clearly drawn as they were deeply entrenched. Every two years, Republicans would try to find new and novel ways to outwit Roe v. Wade, while Democrats relied on the courts as a bulwark against further restrictions.

But now, the deed is done, the war is won and abortion is almost entirely banned in Texas. The number of monthly legal abortions in the state has dwindled into the low single digits.

In overturning Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court not only undid the constitutional protection for abortion. It also made irrelevant many of Texas’ most contentiouspolitical scuffles of the past half-century, forcing both sides to revisit their time-honored legislative strategies.

This session, Democrats are the ones stoking outrage and trying to circumvent the courts, while many Republicans are hoping to sidestep the issue entirely, focusing instead on property taxes, education issues and anti-LGBTQ efforts.

None of the “Big Three” — governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house — have indicated they intend to focus on abortion this session, likely hemming in both the rightward edge of the Republican Party, which is pushing for additional restrictions, and Democrats, who are hoping to chip away at the near-total bans.

“Obviously, we’re not going to be able to repeal the legislation,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin. “So we focus on mitigating damage and making our primary focus access to health care.”

Pushing for more

While the overturn of Roe v. Wade may move abortion down the priority list for some Republicans, the issue certainly isn’t disappearing from the discourse anytime soon.

As of Friday, 151 lobbyists had registered their intent to advocate for and against abortion legislation this session, including from Texas’ aggressive, nationally influential anti-abortion movement.

“We’ve just had a huge historical victory,” said John Seago, with Texas Right to Life. “But in our opinion, the victory is not fully accomplished, it’s not really secured, until we enforce our laws.”

Immediately after the decision, some anti-abortion Republicans promised legislation to tighten the existing laws, which prohibit abortion except to save the life of the pregnant patient.

A main target is companies that help pay for employees’ out-of-state abortions. Rep. Jared Patterson, a Republican from Dallas, has filed a bill that would prevent those companies from receiving tax incentives from the state.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican from Deer Park, has promised to file a bill that circumvents district attorneys who won’t bring abortion-related charges. Cain has not yet filed that bill; he did not respond to request for comment.

A similar bill was filed that would allow the attorney general to take over election fraud cases.

The Attorney General would also be permitted to seek financial penalties from any district attorney who “prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of any criminal offense,” under two bills filed in the House and the Senate.

“Rather than adopt politically-motivated virtue signaling and blanket immunity for criminals, district attorneys have a duty to evaluate the merits of each alleged crime on a case-by-case basis to ensure the public safety of Texans,” said state Rep. David Cook, a Republican from Mansfield who filed the legislation alongside state Sen. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, in a press release.

House Speaker Dade Phelan mentioned the role of district attorneys in curbing crime rates in his opening remarks to the House.

“If rogue district attorneys will not uphold the law,” Phelan said, “it is time to rein them in.”

The legislation does not address abortion directly, but Seago said these efforts will help the cause.

“But the devil’s in the details,” Seago said. “Are we just going to punish those DAs for not doing their job, or are we going to adopt tools to go around them to make sure the laws are enforced?”

Texas will likely see more anti-abortion bills between now and the March 10 filing deadline. Other states have seen legislation that would criminalize pregnant people who get abortions, tighten restrictions on medication abortion and institute more roadblocks for minors seeking abortions.

But in a busy session, with a budget to negotiate and a surplus to spend down, any new proposals will be competing with myriad other Republican priorities.

“That’s one of the challenges that we’re gonna have now,” Seago said. “We’ve had this historic victory, but we’re always competing with other issues.”

Pushing for expanded exceptions

Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping to expand the list of circumstances in which health care providers are permitted to perform abortions. Bills have been filed that would allow abortions in cases in which the fetus is incompatible with life, to preserve the mental health of the pregnant patient or in cases of rape or incest.

But to make any progress on that front, Democrats will need Republicans to join their cause. While a few have shown an interest in adding rape and incest exceptions, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has thrown cold water on even that incremental step.

“Whether anything else goes beyond [the existing exceptions], at this point, I don’t know,” Patrick told WFAA, a TV station in Dallas, last week. “I don’t hear a groundswell for it … I’d have to see a big groundswell.”

Gov. Greg Abbotttold WFAA that he would like the Legislature to clarify the existing exceptions, but did not commit to whether he would sign a rape and incest exception if it passed.

There does seem to be bipartisan interest in expanding women’s health care, however. One of Phelan’s top priorities is expanding postpartum Medicaid, from two months after birth to a full year. The Senate has resisted similar proposals in the past.

“Thankfully, we’ve heard a lot of conservatives in the last two years, since this last session, come on board,” Seago said. “They’re seeing that this makes good sense financially, and it’s just the right thing to do.”

Democrats have also filed bills that would expand maternal health care, increase funding for family planning and strengthen the social safety net.

“Hopefully, my colleagues who have been pushing their so-called pro-life agenda … will put their money where their mouths are and help us take care of these moms and babies,” Howard said.

Democrats are also pushing to expand access to contraception, especially for minors. Texas teens almost always have to get parental consent to access birth control. One of the few programs that offered confidential contraception was recently blocked by a federal court.

“We’ve said all along, if you want to avoid abortions, the best way we can all come together is to prevent the unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in the first place,” Howard said. “And part of that has to do with access to contraceptives.”

Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, a Democrat from Dallas, has filed a bill that would allow minors to access birth control without parental consent. Ramos, who had her first child at 15, said the state’s high teen birth rate is evidence that young people are having sex — and that they need more tools to do so safely.

“The only reason I was able to get my GED, get my law degree and become a legislator was because I was able to get contraception and able to plan a future for myself and my daughter,” Ramos said.

Democrats and Republicans are expected to file additional bills between now and the deadline in March, each trying to move the needle in opposite directions. Ramos said she’s hopeful that women’s health care will emerge as the central issue.

“There’s not much more they can do to strip away women’s rights,” Ramos said. “Of course, you say that, and then they think of something else.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/01/23/texas-legislature-abortion/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home to avoid being served with subpoena: court record

"Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home to avoid being served with subpoena, court record says" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to avoid being served a subpoena Monday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, was attempting to serve the state’s top attorney with a subpoena for a federal court hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state.

Reference

Court documents detailing a process server's attempt to deliver a subpoena to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at his McKinney home on Sept. 26.

(738.7 KB)

When Herrera arrived at Paxton’s home in McKinney on Monday morning, he told a woman who identified herself as Angela that he was trying to deliver legal documents to the attorney general. She told him that Paxton was on the phone and unable to come to the door. Herrera said he would wait.

Nearly an hour later, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, Ken Paxton exited the house.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name. As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” Herrera wrote in the sworn affidavit.

Angela Paxton then exited the house, got inside a Chevrolet truck in the driveway, started it and opened the doors.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him. Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck.”

Herrera eventually placed the subpoenas on the ground near the truck and told him he was serving him with a subpoena. Both cars drove away, leaving the documents on the ground.

On Twitter, the attorney general said his sudden departure was motivated by concerns for his family's safety.

"It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family," he wrote in a tweet.

Paxton has been under indictment for securities fraud for seven years and faces a whistleblower lawsuit from former top deputies who accused him of abuse of office. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.

He was forced into a runoff for the Republican nomination for another term in office after high-profile Republicans, including former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, tried to unseat him. But Republican voters chose him over his intra-GOP challengers, who criticized his legal and personal scandals on the campaign trail.

He faces Democrat Rochelle Garza in November.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/26/texas-attorney-general-ken-paxton-subpoena-abortion-lawsuit/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

The Supreme Court may shutter a Texas abortion clinic that weathered decades of restrictions

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SAN ANTONIO — As the frosted-glass window slides open, a dozen heads pop up, all with the same anxious, expectant look. One by one, women are called up to the desk at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services to learn whether and when they can get an abortion.

For months, the clinic has had to be the bearer of bad news, telling clients that they were too far along to terminate their pregnancies in Texas. It doesn’t get any easier, employees said, explaining again and again that the state has banned abortions after about six weeks, a point at which many don’t even know they are pregnant.

But recently, the clinic has had to flip that script. Many of the women who were seen for an initial appointment on a recent Tuesday weren’t too late for an abortion — they were too early.

One patient said she took two pregnancy tests, one positive, one negative, so she decided to come in just to be safe. Nothing showed up on her ultrasound, so clinic staff told her to take another test in a week and come back.

She leaned in, twisting her paperwork in her hands.

“Can I just take the [abortion] pill to be sure?”

Many patients are taking daily pregnancy tests, clinic director Andrea Gallegos said, and coming in at — or before — the first sign of pregnancy, terrified that they’re going to miss the six-week window.

“There’s some patients we see two, three times for sonograms before we actually see evidence and before we can give the pill,” Gallegos said. “But at least we catch it before six weeks.”

It’s far from perfect — the clinic is still having to turn away patients who are beyond the legal limit, and Gallegos worries most of all about the patients who know they’re beyond six weeks and don’t even make an appointment.

But over the last nine months, abortion clinics, and the patients they treat, have started to adapt to life under the new law.

This is what abortion clinics in Texas have done for decades. They add waiting periods and read the mandated script. They force patients to listen to a description of the fetus from the required sonogram. They fight new laws in court, and at the same time, race to comply with them, always bobbing and weaving to ensure they’re still able to provide abortions.

But any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court may deliver the knockout punch these clinics have feared for decades.

“If we can’t do abortions, then these clinics will no longer exist,” Gallegos said. “For the first time, I think we all just feel really helpless.”Andrea Gallegos, executive administrator of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, stands outside the facility for a portrait on June 14, 2022. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

After the bans

Last week, Gallegos sat at the front desk of Tulsa Women’s Clinic, the sister clinic to Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, looking out at the waiting room. For months, every chair had been occupied as women poured over the state line, seeking abortions they couldn’t get in Texas.

But in late May, Oklahoma passed a law banning abortion from the moment of fertilization, and ever since, the room has been empty.

Early on, the clinic fielded a lot of phone calls and encouraged callers to come in for a sonogram, to see how far along they were and learn about their options, limited as they might be. The clinic can help connect patients with funding to help them travel out of state, and provide follow-up care when they return.

A few people who came in were less than six weeks pregnant, so in a role reversal, staff sent them to clinics in Texas for abortion care.

“A lot of people who come to our clinics, this is the first time they’ve seen a physician about their pregnancy,” Gallegos said. “This is their first sonogram. They may decide they want to continue the pregnancy, but they don’t have an established OB, so we give referrals for that. We’re a line of support, no matter what they decide.”

But as word has spread about the new law, the phone has stopped ringing.

“It’s really scary,” Gallegos said.

The clinic is keeping the lights on and the staff employed for the time being, but in the long term, it can’t operate an abortion clinic in a state that doesn’t allow abortions.

And soon, it won’t just be Oklahoma. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a case that is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional protection for abortion early in pregnancy.

If the final ruling aligns with a draft version that was leaked in early May, it will be up to each state to set its own laws around abortion. More than half of all states, including Texas and Oklahoma, are expected to outlaw the procedure.

After decades of fighting to stay open, abortion clinics in those states will likely have to close their doors. But as the last nine months — and the last few decades — in Texas have shown, the demand for abortion care won’t disappear quite as easily.

A staff member wears a shirt in support of Dr. Alan Braid at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio on June 14, 2022.

Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

Dr. Alan Braid, abortion provider and owner of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, sits in his office for a portrait on June 14, 2022.

Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

First: A staff member at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services wears a shirt in support of Dr. Alan Braid. Last: “We’ve always been ready for whatever comes our way,” says Braid, the clinic’s owner and an abortion provider. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

50 years of fighting

As a young medical resident in San Antonio, Dr. Alan Braid was called on to treat a 16-year-old girl who’d arrived at the emergency room after a botched, illegal abortion. She was in sepsis, her vagina packed with rags, the smell of infection so overpowering that Braid backed out of the room, gagging.

She died a few days later.

This was 1973, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade. Abortion clinics were not yet widespread, and many women continued to seek illegal abortions. Braid couldn’t stomach the idea that women were dying over what should have been, even at that time, a simple and safe medical procedure.

Braid started working part time providing abortions at a clinic in the area. Eventually, he took over ownership of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services and Tulsa Women’s Clinic.

The San Antonio clinic is a testament to the hoops Braid has had to jump through to continue to provide abortions. In 2013, the state passed an omnibus abortion law that, in part, required clinics to comply with onerous building requirements.

Braid joined a legal challenge seeking to overturn parts of the law, but he also spent $3 million building a new clinic that complied with the new requirements. It opened on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the law from being enforced.

“We were ready, though, in case the ruling didn’t come down our way,” he said. “And I never regretted it, because we’ve been able to treat more patients and more serious cases.”

When state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8 in 2021, which banned abortions after about six weeks, Braid was the only provider in Texas to openly violate the law, hoping to generate a lawsuit that would get it overturned. He was sued three times, but more than nine months later, those cases are stalled and the law remains in effect.

In hindsight, he regrets performing one abortion in violation of the law. He wishes, instead, he had performed many more.

“It would have been risky, but I’m more and more convinced that the law would have been done in a month if I’d just kept providing abortions as usual,” Braid said.

Now, once again, he’s considering his next move. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the clinics in Oklahoma and Texas will close. He’s considered relocating to New Mexico or Colorado, or finding a Native American tribe that would let him open a clinic on tribal lands. A friend suggested commandeering a ship and heading for international waters.

But he’s in his late 70s now, and starting over is easier said than done. There was a time, in the early days after Roe v. Wade, when he and colleagues believed abortions might become a commonplace medical procedure that you could access at your OB-GYN’s office.

The state’s crusade to eliminate abortion access has only provided Braid with more and more evidence that this kind of care is a necessity. Women drive hours to make their appointments. They come back, again and again, until they can get treated. They bring their kids, and miss work. They sit in his exam room, wracked with sobs, when they’re turned away.

Women sit in the waiting room after their appointments at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio on June 14, 2022.

Women sat in the waiting room Tuesday after their appointments at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

Unbidden, they tell him their stories. They’re in abusive marriages. They’ve been raped. They’re on their way to college. They’re already struggling to feed the kids they have. They’re undocumented and can’t leave the state.

These women are often desperate and always resourceful, so he’s certain they’ll continue to find ways to access abortion care. Some will leave the state, or the country. Some will obtain abortion-inducing medication online. Some will turn to more desperate measures.

For decades, abortion clinics have been just as resilient as the patients they serve.

“We’ve always been ready for whatever comes our way,” Braid said. “It’s never been easy. But I also never, ever, ever thought Roe would be overturned. Ever.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/17/dobbs-supreme-court-abortion-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

ACLU files new lawsuit challenging Texas' law targeting parents providing gender-affirming care

A new lawsuit filed Wednesday is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of three families, including the Briggle family, who have long been advocates for trans rights, including hosting Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton for dinner with their transgender son.

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The lawsuit also seeks to block the state from investigating any families that belong to PFLAG, an advocacy group for parents and family members of LGBTQ+ people.

The state is currently blocked from investigating one family that brought a prior legal challenge. This lawsuit seeks to widen the number of people who cannot be investigated under the directive; according to the filing, PFLAG’s 17 chapters in Texas have over 600 members combined.

At least nine families are currently under investigation for potential child abuse by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for providing gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

Gender-affirming care is endorsed by all the major medical associations as the proper treatment for gender dysphoria, which is the distress someone can feel when their assigned sex doesn’t align with their gender identity. While many young people focus on social transition — dressing differently or using different pronouns — some are prescribed puberty blockers, which are reversible, or hormone therapy.

In February, Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion equating gender-affirming medical care with child abuse. Days later, Abbott followed that opinion with a directive telling DFPS to investigate these cases. The agency said in a statement at the time that it would “follow Texas law … in accordance with Governor Abbott’s directive.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal sued Abbott and DFPS on behalf of a family under investigation, seeking a court order stopping these investigations more broadly. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the court could temporarily stop the investigation into the family that brought the suit, but would not shield all parents of transgender children.

Some investigations resumed after that ruling.

Now, the ACLU and Lambda Legal have brought this new suit on behalf of three specific families and PFLAG, arguing that “every one of PFLAG’s Texas members with a transgender child, or those with children still learning who they are, is at substantial risk of harm.”

“For nearly 50 years, PFLAG parents have united against government efforts to harm their LGBTQ+ kids,” said Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National. “By going after trans kids and their families, Gov. Abbott has picked a fight with thousands of families in Texas and across the country who are united as members of PFLAG National.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/08/transgender-texas-child-abuse-lawsuit/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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