Texas bill would make it possible to put women to death for having abortions
AUSTIN, Texas – Men and women, young and old, native Texans and immigrants, they rose to ask lawmakers to protect life, describing a “genocide” and foreseeing the arrival of “God’s wrath.”
The act of public atonement they are seeking is passage of a bill that would criminalize abortion without exception, and make it possible to convict women who undergo the procedure of homicide, which can carry the death penalty in Texas. Though it faces steep odds of becoming law, the measure earned a hearing this week amid a larger legislative push in GOP-controlled states to curtail abortion rights, in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
The legislation is the brainchild of state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican from Arlington, Texas, who was placed under state protection because of death threats he received when he first introduced the bill in 2017. The Air Force veteran, who has been married five times, argues that the measure is necessary to make women “more personally responsible.” He said Tuesday that his intention is to guarantee “equal protection” for life inside and “outside the womb.”
Some of his supporters see the issue in even more fateful terms.
“God’s word says, ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man - the civil government - his blood will be shed,’ ” said Sonya Gonnella, quoting the Book of Genesis and asking lawmakers to “repent with us.”
Announcing herself as a “follower of the lord Jesus Christ,” Gonnella was among hundreds of people who testified in a marathon hearing that stretched from Monday into early Tuesday before the Texas House’s Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence.
It was the first time in the state’s history, committee members said, that public testimony had been heard on a measure holding women criminally liable for their abortions. The legislation was left pending on Tuesday, as Democrats claimed a contradiction in the agenda advanced by its supporters, who call themselves “pro-life.”
“I’m trying to reconcile in my head the arguments that I heard tonight about how essentially one is okay with subjecting a woman to the death penalty for the exact – to do to her the exact same thing that one is alleging she is doing to a child,” said state Rep. Victoria Neave, a Democrat who represents part of Dallas County.
A number of hurdles stand in the way of the legislation, including the reluctance of the committee’s chairman, Republican Jeff Leach, to bring it to the full House. Even some antiabortion groups, such as Texans for Life, oppose the severe changes to the state’s criminal laws. Yet, the fact that the measure, which did not get a hearing in 2017, is now being entertained in Austin is a testament to new zeal behind the campaign to roll back abortion rights. Enthusiasm for the antiabortion cause was evident as well in the surprise box office success of the film “Unplanned,” which paints a dark picture of Planned Parenthood and other groups that defend abortion rights. The White House is screening a film with a similar message on Friday, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
In Texas, which has already advanced legislation punishing doctors who fail to try to save the lives of infants born after attempted abortions, the battle lines have been clearly drawn. Republican lawmakers describe the initiatives to prevent abortions in later trimesters as the “anti-New York” bills, a response to a measure signed into law in January by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo that critics falsely claim strips medical care from infants born alive during procedures, which happens extremely rarely.
The emotional showdown in Texas came amid a broader effort, in states where Republicans enjoy legislative control, to impose sweeping new restrictions on abortion rights. From Georgia to Ohio, from Florida to West Virginia, about a dozen states have moved on legislation banning abortion once a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat.
Some states are intent on taking additional steps. Last week, legislation was introduced in Alabama that would criminalize performing an abortion at any stage, with the only exception being a threat to the mother’s life. The effort is aimed squarely at Roe v. Wade.
That the Texas bill, which goes even further, is a clear violation of the 1973 landmark decision appears to be precisely the point for those who asked lawmakers to advance it out of committee. The measure directs authorities to enforce its requirements “regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision.” In testimony, proponents hailed President Trump as a champion of the “unborn” and beseeched state lawmakers to do their part in giving him a “chance” to help advance their agenda before a Supreme Court whose makeup he has shifted to the right.
Anti-abortion activists from around the U.S. gather in Washington, D.C., last January for the annual “March for Life.” A Texas bill would make it possible to convict women who undergo the procedure of homicide, which can carry the death penalty.