Advocates for abolishing abortion in Texas were dealt a strong hand this week when Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen referred the legislation to the friendliest possible committee.
On Monday, Bonnen referred House Bill 896 by State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) to the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence. That committee is chaired by State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Plano) who coauthored an identical version of the legislation last session.
Bonnen has a solidly pro-life voting record as a legislator but has been mum on legislation to abolish abortion entirely. However, the referral shows he is at least open to the legislation passing the Texas House.
Had Bonnen wanted to doom the legislation from the start, he could have referred it to Public Health which is chaired by pro-abortion Democrat State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston. Another option was State Affairs which is chaired by State Rep. Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) and has a solid Republican majority.
However, Phelan has already staked out opposition to the bill, which he describes as unconstitutional.
To be clear, HB 896 grants the full protection of Texas law to unborn children from the moment of their conception, a change that would discard federal law and Supreme Court rulings in order to treat abortion as murder and prosecute it accordingly.
Bradley Pierce, an attorney and a leader of Abolish Abortion Texas, says it’s not the legislation that it is unconstitutional, but the decisions of the Supreme Court.
“I believe Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional, and where the Supreme Court has ignored the Constitution, then we are duty-bound to ignore the court,” Pierce told the Austin American Statesman earlier this year.
Pierce isn’t alone; the Texas GOP platform calls for lawmakers to likewise ignore federal law. Earlier this month Abolish Abortion Texas delivered 65,000 petitions signed by Texans to the Texas Capitol calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to keep his promise to Jeremiah Thomas, a terminally ill Texas teenager whose dying wish was to speak with Abbott on ending abortion in Texas. His wish was granted by the governor and the Make a Wish Foundation.
“We just want you to treat abortion like an act of murder and it should be punished by law,” said Thomas in his phone conversation with Abbott last July. “For my wish, I just wanted to say that to you … I think we could rally with Texas, and we could end abortion here and now. Because, at least for me, this would make my wish complete before I pass.”
“Your wish is on the Republican Party platform positions, and it’s what we’re going to be pursuing this next legislative session. And that is to outlaw abortion altogether in the State of Texas, and so your wish is granted,” the governor replied.
Thomas lost his battle with osteoblastic osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, and passed away one month later.
Since then, activists across the state have been calling on Abbott and other Texas lawmakers to honor Jeremiah’s wish and pass legislation ending abortion in Texas.
The governor has been largely silent on the issue of abortion this session, but pro-life legislators have continued to fight for Tinderholt’s bill. The legislation died without a hearing last session, but advocates are hoping for better results this go-around.
Enter Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Chairman Jeff Leach.
If Leach still supports the legislation, he and the ostensibly pro-life Republican majority on the committee should be able to pass HB 896, even if every Democrat votes against it.
Under such a scenario, the legislation would require unanimous support of the committee’s Republicans, State Reps. Matt Krause (Fort Worth), Morgan Meyer (Dallas), Reggie Smith (Sherman), and James White (Woodville).
Assuming White, who coauthored the legislation last session along with Leach, still backs the bill, the Plano lawmaker only needs to obtain the support of the other three before bringing the matter up for a vote.
Should one or more members of the Republican majority on the committee get weak at the knees, Leach need only look across the rotunda and employ the Huberty method of threatening to blockade every other piece of legislation to ensure HB 896 is reported favorably out of his committee.
Under the rules of the Texas House, committee chairmen have full authority on calling legislation up for a vote—all the power Leach needs to ensure HB 896 passes his committee.