Over 400 citizens from across the country descended on Austin on Monday to participate in the public hearing over legislation ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court and enacting an outright ban on abortion, the first hearing on such a bill in the entire nation.
House Bill 896 by State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) was heard in the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. If passed, the bill would outlaw abortions in Texas entirely, removing an exemption in the law and allowing the action to be prosecuted as criminal homicide for both the individual who conducts/executes the abortion and the mother seeking to have the gruesome procedure performed.
In Texas, criminal homicide carries penalties ranging from a state jail felony to a capital felony, punishable by death, life in prison, or life without parole, depending on the determination of a judge and jury.
“It was the first substantive discussion the legislature has had on legislation that fully recognizes the unborn child as a human being worthy of protection,” said Tinderholt. “I am humbled that I get to be a voice on their behalf. I hope that the legislature recognizes that this session is the time to act on protecting more unborn children. We cannot wait.”
While conservatives are often outnumbered on marquee legislation, supporters of the bill dwarfed—by nearly tenfold—the number of abortion activists opposed to the measure. Over 300 of the individuals testifying were in support of Tinderholt’s bill, sticking it out in order to do so during the marathon hearing that lasted beyond 3:00 a.m. the following morning.
Forty-nine other bills were slated for a hearing before the committee, which gaveled in at 8:00 a.m., prior to the hearing on HB 896, which began shortly before 7:00 p.m.
It’s 2:35am and we are on our last panel of witnesses for HB 896. #txlege pic.twitter.com/SjOeniziKz
— Matt Krause (@RepMattKrause) April 9, 2019
NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, other abortion-supporting organizations, and a number of abortion advocate citizens testified in opposition to the legislation, including “Deeds Not Words,” the organization run by failed gubernatorial candidate and spotlight-searcher Wendy Davis.
While abortion supporters were significantly outnumbered at the hearing—and are even further outnumbered electorally in the Lone Star State—they appear likely to win the day. The bill was ultimately killed in committee with the help of Republican legislators including the Republican Civil Jurisprudence and Judiciary Chairman, State Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano.
Earlier in the session, conservatives looked at HB 896’s referral to Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence as a positive sign, given the Republican and ostensibly pro-life majority on the committee; further still, Chairman Leach had coauthored Tinderholt’s identical bill in an attempt to pass the legislation last session.
But now Leach is changing his tune, saying he will refuse to hold a vote on any legislation containing civil or criminal penalties for the women who participate in an abortion.
“I cannot and will not support, nor will I let come out of this committee, any bill on [abortion] which targets the woman with either civil or criminal liability,” Leach told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week.
Supporters of the legislation, including women who have previously had an abortion, disagree, and argued before the committee that the criminal penalty is necessary to dissuade expectant mothers from ending the life of their child.
“A preborn child is alive. Our laws should validate it and punish all of those who seek to end it,” said one supporter.
Unless Leach or Tinderholt change their position, the legislation is not likely to advance. And with the deadlines in the Texas Legislature quickly approaching, any delay impedes the possibility of the bill to pass.