This article is the second in a five-part series, by News is Out member publications, looking at Roe v. Wade and its impacts on the LGBQT+ community.
By James M. Russell, Dallas Voice
After Texas Democrats failed in their attempt to seize control of the Statehouse in 2020, the Texas Legislature again convened in 2021. (While Democrats lost one seat, they managed to knock off Republican Sarah Davis, the only adamantly pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ rights Republican in the Legislature.)
Banking on the conservative majority, the Legislature focused on a litany of issues in the latest culture wars putting Texas on the map, including passing the strictest anti-abortion law in the country.
Senate Bill 8, known as the Heartbeat Act and introduced by Senate State Affairs Chairman Bryan Hughes, an East Texas Republican, bans abortion after six weeks in all cases, with no exemptions for rape or incest. (In a special legislative session over the summer, pleas from a handful of House Republicans urging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to amend the bill to include those exemptions fell on deaf ears.)
But legal experts noted a clever enforcement mechanism: without a state enforcement mechanism, the burden falls on citizens to report anyone who gets an abortion or aids and abets someone else in getting an abortion.
House Elections Committee Chairman Briscoe Cain, a hard-right Deer Park Republican representing Southeast Texas, has advocated punishing nonprofits providing funds to help people seeking the procedure as well as corporations willing to pay for employees to travel out-of-state to get an abortion.
Should Roe v. Wade would be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer, which appears to be likely, Texas is one of 13 states that already have trigger bans in place. The Texas trigger ban would make abortion a felony except in narrow cases where the patient’s life is at stake or continuing with the pregnancy could substantially impact the patient’s bodily functions, according to the Austin American-Stateman.
As with the Heartbeat Act, rape and incest are not exempt. Also, doctors could face life in prison and fines up to $100,000 for performing abortions.
In the past two decades, Texas lawmakers have slowly chipped away at abortion access in the state, despite strong support among Texans for Roe v. Wade. According to a University of Texas poll released in May, conducted before Politico leaked the draft opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s potential ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, 78% of Texans support abortion in some form while only 15% support a complete ban.
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, originated in Dallas when two Texas lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, sued Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade on behalf of Dallas lesbian Norma McCorvey — known in the suit as Jane Roe, who was seeking an abortion. McCorvey later came out publicly as Jane Roe and worked at a clinic in Dallas that provided abortions. It was there that she met Flip Benham, the right-wing preacher who founded Operation Rescue and who led regular anti-abortion protests outside the clinic. In 1995, Benham baptized McCorvey in a backyard swimming pool in Garland, Texas, and she became the darling of the anti-abortion movement.
Before she died in 2017; however, McCorvey switched sides again, recanting her opposition to abortion and claiming that she had been paid by Operation Rescue. She said in the film, “I took their money, and they put me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say, and that’s what I’d say.”
Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, became an international rock star among abortion supporters for her 13-hour filibuster of a 2013 bill restricting abortion access. It passed in a special session called by then-Gov. Rick Perry, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled portions of the bill unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
But the action in Texas isn’t just at the state level. Even before the legislative sessions, some municipalities have become “sanctuaries for the unborn,” or places where abortion clinics are not allowed.
Waskom, a town of 2,200 on the border of Texas and Louisiana, is believed to be the first town to vote on such a resolution. According to the website Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn, which tracks the progress of such ordinances, nearly 50 cities have passed citizen referendums or council votes.
Lubbock, in West Texas, is the largest city to do so but not without a fight. While the mayor and council opposed it, a citizen-led referendum passed overwhelmingly declaring that abortion is prohibited.
The efforts are largely symbolic. The majority of these are small rural towns don’t have abortion clinics.
But Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, told CNN the ordinances are still harmful: “They are a really harmful tactic by the right to further marginalize low-income people, people of color and young people into thinking they can’t access healthcare choices which are well within their rights,” she has said.
Unfortunately, that may soon be the case in Texas.