Texas bill would make it pos­si­ble to put women to death for hav­ing abor­tions

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Isaac Stan­ley-Becker

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.

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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.

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