Our take on what's trending in politics in Austin and across Texas, from the Statesman's chief political correspondent Jonathan Tilove.
Texas GOP to choose between abolishing abortion and `prudent pro-life incrementalism’
Good morning Austin:
I am in San Antonio for the Texas Republican Convention. The general sessions don’t begin until Thursday, but, since Monday, the Platform, Rules and Legislative Priorities committees have been meeting at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center.
Two years ago, the Republican convention set five legislative priorities.
We, the delegates of the 2016 Republican Party of Texas State Convention, call upon the 85th Texas Legislature to:
1. Pass constitutional carry while maintaining licensing as optional for reciprocity purposes.
2. Abolish abortion by enacting legislation to stop the murder of unborn children; and to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.
3. Prioritize the allocation of funds to effectively secure the border through whatever means necessary, including but not limited to barriers, personnel, and technology over land, sea, and air, because the federal government refuses to secure the southern border of Texas.
4. Call for a limited Article V convention of states for the specific purpose of restricting the power of the federal government, including the implementation of term limits, and balanced budget amendment. Any proposed amendments must be ratified by ¾ of the states.
5. And to replace the property tax system with an alternative other than the income tax and require voter approval to increase the overall tax burden.
The Legislature obliged on priorities 3, funding for border security, and 4, calling for a limited Article V convention of states.
Not so on 1, constitutional carry, which means the Second Amendment should be all the license any American needs to carry a gun, or on 5, replacing the property tax, or on 2, the abolition of abortion.
This last is a really quite radical position for a the dominant and dominating political party in the state of Texas. It calls on the state to ignore the Supreme Court and completely outlaw abortion.
It would criminalize women who have abortions and doctors who perform abortions.
It didn’t get very far in the Legislature, but Arlington Rep. Tony Tinderholt did introduce it as House Bill 948.
The Republican lawmaker behind a controversial bill — which could make it legal to charge women and providers with murder for an abortion — defended the proposal by saying completely removing access to the procedure would “force” women to be “more personally responsible” with sex.
State Representative Tony Tinderholt, of Arlington, said in an interview with the Observer that, if passed, the bill would reduce the number of pregnancies “when they know that there’s repercussions.”
“Right now, it’s real easy. Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh, I can just go get an abortion.’ Now, we both know that consenting adults don’t always think smartly sometimes. But consenting adults need to also consider the repercussions of the sexual relationship that they’re gonna have, which is a child,” Tinderholt said.
House Bill 948 would ban and criminalize abortions at any stage, direct state officials to ignore “any conflicting federal” laws, and would no longer exempt pregnancies as a result of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. The bill would remove the exception for abortion in the state’s penal code for criminal homicide, meaning that women and providers could face charges as serious as murder for the procedure.
The abortion abolitionists – who fashion themselves in the tradition of the anti-slavery abolitionists – want to keep the language in the platform, which shouldn’t be a problem, and also to keep it as one of the party’s top legislative priorities, which is more contentious, and is opposed by Texas Right to Life.
Texas Right to Life wants to continue to pursue a course of what it describes as “prudent pro-life incrementalism” that they believe has weakened and could eventually lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.
It is akin to the decades-long strategy of civil rights groups to overcome legal segregation.
The abolitionists hold as their model a movement whose victory came as a consequence of the Civil War.
Here in Texas and elsewhere, the abolitionists hold the traditional pro-life groups with a certain contempt.
Enough with the pro-life platitudes. Enough with the empty pro-life promises.
Forty-four years of regulated child sacrifice is enough. We are done congratulating these compromised officials for their half-hearted efforts. We are done celebrating their so-called victories.
Children are being torn apart on their watch, on our watch.
It’s time we demand the abolition of abortion.
They may not be the obvious enemy.
That’s the face of the pro-choice movement and it’s very clear that that’s wicked, that’ s evil up front and not hiding at all.
But the pro-lifers are also an enemy, more insidious in their own way.
Pro-life is the expression of a moral opinion. Abolition is the expression of a moral action. When you call yourself “pro-life” you are letting people know what you think about abortion. When you call yourself an abolitionist, you are telling them what you aim to do about it.
Pro-lifers prefer gradual, over immediate, abolition.
Abolitionism has historically been wed to the doctrine of immediatism. The history of the pro-life movement has been one of gradualistic means and measures, incremental legislation, ameliorative programs, and the inclusion of exceptions to abortion along the way to its eventual total abolition. Abolitionists reject the idea that you can effectively fight evil by allowing it in some cases or do away with it by planned out incremental steps which preserve it along the way. Abolitionists reject the notion that you can ever commit evil in order that good may come. Abolitionists cry NO COMPROMISE!!! Pro-lifers cry “get the best that you can get when you can get it,” and consistently support the “lesser of two evils.”
You can be a secular pro-lifer. You cannot be a secular abolitionist.
To be an abolitionist you must believe in a higher law. One does not need to believe in a higher law or deity to embrace an adverse opinion regarding abortion. But to argue that abortion is evil and ought to be abolished regardless of whether 99.99999% of the rest of the human population agrees with you requires the existence of a binding moral law which has its reference point outside of humanity.
Pro-lifers prefer common ground. Abolitionists prefer to proclaim the gospel.
A majority of pro-life leaders and organizations argue that one need not convince a person that God exists or that abortion is sin, in order to convert them to the pro-life position. While this may be true, abolitionists never choose to remove God or the gospel from the conversation. Abolitionists believe that abortion exists because men deny that God does. The pro-life movement argues that we should talk less about sin and more about science. Less about salvation and more about “saving the babies.”
Central to the work abolition is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Bringing abortion and its justifications into conflict with the Gospel is the primary mechanism of Abolition. Abolitionist understand our work as being part of the Great Commission. Abolitionists adopt these Five Tenets of Abolition and practice these Two Modes of Abolitionism
THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT ARGUES THAT WE SHOULD FOCUS ON SAVING THE BABIES. THE ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT ARGUES THAT WE SHOULD FOCUS ON CONVERTING THE CULTURE. ABOLITIONISTS BELIEVE THAT SAVING SOULS HOLDS THE KEY TO SAVING BABIES. ABOLITIONISTS BELIEVE THAT A CONVERT TO CHRIST IS A CONVERT TO THE CAUSE OF ABOLITION.
On Tuesday, the convention’s Legislative Priorities Committee, which will recommend to the convention what the priorities should be for the next legislative session, heard from John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, Bradley Pierce, who leads Abolish Abortion Texas, and Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.
Pojman talked about Texas’ long and continuing record of pro-life legislation that has made it one of the most restrictive for abortion in the nation.
I will focus on Seago and Pierce, because it is their two views that are competing for primacy at the convention. Each wants their view of where the anti-abortion movement should direct its energy to emerge from the convention as one of the Texas Republican Party’s legislative priorities for the session that begins in January.
What follows are excerpts from what Seago told the committee.
The Legislature is built to kill bills.
We have to practice prudence.
We have to be very selective about our priorities. We have three criterion.
Will this bill save lives?
Talking about what we will do with the body of a baby after he or she is murdered does not save lives. Yes, it’s good public policy. Yes, it shows our respect for life. But we’re talking about after the abortion.
It wasn’t a legislative priority for our organization, because we want to save lives.
Does this bill move the cultural conversation to the right topics?
The two things I want to have a conversation with my pro-choice neighbor about is the humanity of the pre-born child and the inhumanity of elective abortion.
When we talk about clinic regulation, well, what’s the debate around clinic regulation? It’s about how long it takes to drive to an abortion clinic. It’s about how wide the hallways are in an abortion clinic. Those are not culture-changing conversations.
But when we talk about dismemberment abortions, when we talk about the ugliness of the violence of elective abortions, that’s the conversation I want to have with my pro-choice neighbor. So if we pass a bill prohibiting dismemberment abortions, as we did in 2017, I get to explain to my pro-choice friends, or even just my apathetic Republican friends, why abortion is injustice, why it’s an act of violence.
The third criterion, is, does this bill work to undermine Roe v. Wade?
We live in the shadow of Roe v. Wade. There’s no denying it.
We are not afraid, our organization is not afraid of the courts. In fact, we feel we have to use the federal courts to undermine the legal foundation of Roe v. Wade.
Attempts to circumvent the court ruling, or simply ignore the Supreme Court (won’t work.)
Our organization is convinced we have to use the courts, but not just in an arbitrary way.
The last ten years there have been successes and the legal foundation of Roe is shaking.
What we will be seeking to pass in 2019 is going to be a pro-life PreNDA legislation.
Here is Plank 88 from the 2016 platform”
88: Right to Life – All innocent human life must be respected and safeguarded from fertilization to natural death; therefore, the unborn, the aged, and the physically or mentally challenged have a fundamental individual right to life, which cannot be infringed.
Texas law doesn’t live up to that principle. Texas law has dangerous loopholes in it right now.
We say we are going to protect pre-born children at 20 weeks because that’s when they have the capacity to feel pain, except for children who are expected to have a disability.
We say for those children we are going to give you less protection. We say we are going to allow you to be aborted after 20 weeks.
That is a disgrace to Texas. That is a black mark on our pro-life record. Usually in Texas and in U.S. law we provide more protections for individuals with disabilities or individuals with diseases. We give more legal protection, not less. But what Texas law does is the opposite.
So, what PreNDA seeks to do is fill that loophole and provide non-discrimination language to Texas law. So saying that we see certain abortions as discriminatory and we want to prohibit those.
Also PreNDA legislation doesn’t just say no to abortion, it says yes to life. We want to expand these mothers’ access to perinatal care, palliative care and other social and medical services.
We can talk to our pro-choice neighbors. We can talk to Democrats.
It’s a very dynamic legal attack.
We don’t think ignoring a court and having a federal-state standoff is a legitimate strategy.
We have a reputation for being stubborn. But we do take into consideration what’s possible.
We think prudent incrementalism is the right strategy to adopt.
Bradley Pierce is a co-founding attorney of Heritage Defense, where he helps defend the parental rights of Christian homeschooling families around the country against threats by social services. After being homeschooled in the late 80′s through graduation, Bradley earned a degree in History and English from Baylor University while serving as student body vice president, then went on to earn a Juris Doctor degree from Baylor Law School. He and his wife Cindy have seven children.
Here are excepts from Pierce:
I’m a Christian, I’m a husband, a father, an attorney. I’m a loyal Republican. I’m here from Williamson County, SD 5. I’m an abolitionist. I’m here on behalf of Abolish Abortion Texas.
I’m here to talk about a legislative priority that is already a legislative priority
Our legislative priority that we’re pushing is our name. Abolish Abortion Texas.
The Abolish Abortion plank from the 2016 platform: We call upon the Texas Legislature to enact legislation stopping the murder of unborn children; and to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.
It got the most top votes in the committee when it was considered. It was adopted by nearly 90 percent of delegates in 2016. It led to HB 948 being filed in our legislative session with 12 co-authors. It got the support of over 68 percent of Republican primary voters three moths ago on our Republican primary ballot.
Why ignore Roe?
There’s two ways to approach Roe. Change the court or ignore the court.
Well, here’s what 45 years of trying to change the court looks like, just a little bit of history here.
Pierce recounted how a succession of Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents have affirmed Roe.
Even if we had President Ronald Reagans now into infinity Roe would not be overturned at this rate. 55,000 plus babies are murdered in Texas every year. I don’t call that success.
Some people say Roe is the law of the land.
No it isn’t.
This Constitution will be law of the land. Roe is unconstitutional so it’s not the law of the land.
Nowhere in the Constitution is there a right to an abortion, either expressed or implied
Where the court has ignored the Constitution, we must ignore the court.
And some may say, Bradley, that’s lawlessness. No lawlessness is what we live in right now. Lawlessness is 55,000 babies a year being murdered.
The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being. God is.
Not only can we resist it. We must resist it.
If we don’t ignore Roe there is no end in sight to the Nile River of blood that is flowing through our land.
This is a legislative priority in our platform and we need to defend legislative priorities. If we put on a legislative priority and then our Legislature substantially ignores that and then we rip that legislative priority off, you’ve just sent a signal.
Dear Republican legislators: You can ignore the grassroots of your party and our response to that is we’ll give up. We’re sending them a signal that we’re giving up.
People say this is not very specific. Specific? We’re saying outlaw abortion. How much more specific does it need to be?
The legislators are complaining. “We don’t like this.” Good, that means we’re having an effect.
We’re not here to pass things they are going to do anyway. We’re here to tell them what conservative Texans want.
This has not become less important. 110,000 estimated have died since this became a legislative priority. This has gotten more important every single day.
The 2016 platform includes both abolition and incrementalist planks.
The same is likely to be true of the 2018 platform.
“It’s contradictory, but that’s where our party is right now,” Seago said. “You could have both in the platform. Once you go into the Legislature, we are not advocating for abolition because we don’t think it’s an effective legal strategy. We’re saying PreNDA is something the Legislature will do, it’s something that will get us a step closer. instead of asking them to do something the Legislature has already shown they are not interested in doing.”
Seago acknowledges that there is power to the abolitionist argument that it will appear the party is softening its stand on abortion if it steps back from identifying abolition as a top legislative priority.
“They messed up,” Seago said of the 2016 convention. “They shouldn’t have put abolition in in the first place. There are a lot of committee members who were supportive of it last time who see that that’s not a prudent decision.”
But, Seago said of the abolitionist stance, “It’s pretty popular for conservative Republicans.”
“It’s a family discussion,” he said. “It’s just about strategy.”
But, in testimony later in the day before the Platform Committee’s State Affair Subcommittee, Pierce framed the issue in typically starker terms.
To end abortion, he said, “I think we should be willing to lay down our own lives.”
As it finished its business Tuesday evening, the State Affairs Subcommittee voted without disagreement to recommend that the abolitionist plank remain a legislative priority for the Texas Republican Party for the coming session.
Author: Jonathan Tilove
Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.
View all posts by Jonathan Tilove