by Gloria Totten and Aimee Arrambide, Op-Ed in the Austin American-Statesman
After last month’s milestone decision by the Supreme Court to strike down anti-abortion laws in Texas, there was a communal sigh of relief across the country from abortion rights supporters — a majority of Americans today. But those celebrations were soon muted when the conversation shifted to what’s next for the anti-abortion movement, with many sensing it was only a matter of time before a different game plan emerged.
It didn’t take long — just a few days — and once again, it’s happening in Texas.
Last week, Texas health officials proposed new rules that would require abortion providers to either cremate or bury fetal remains. These new rules were published in the Texas Register on July 1 with no announcement and are unlikely to require lawmaker approval. This means that absent a legislative process, these superfluous, invasive rules are being ushered into law by Gov. Greg Abbott himself. While other states have introduced bills like this since the now-widely discredited Committee for Medical Progress videos surfaced last summer, Texas is using the rule-making process to push this through under the radar. In light of the House Bill 2 decision, we can only expect Texas and other states to do this more often.
Let’s be clear: Whereas prior anti-abortion laws were passed under the guise of “protecting women’s health,” these laws blatantly harass and bully women for their Constitutional right to decide to have an abortion. Unfortunately, unlike the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that were struck down recently by the court, these laws do not easily fit into that framework and will require more time and more taxpayer money to resolve.
The proposed rules signal that the anti-abortion movement is testing its hand with a new strategy in the ongoing war on women’s health — one that lives outside the bounds of the Whole Woman’s Health decision, where women are punished for seeking a sense of dignity during a personal decision. Texas is in good company trying to pass these new rules, with Indiana’s GOP Governor Mike Pence pushing for similar requirements despite pushback from anti-abortion lawmakers in his own state. And rest assured, there will be more to come as the anti-abortion movement shakes off its recent losses and starts to fight back.
Though the Whole Woman’s Health decision technically frees clinics in Texas from the unnecessary burdens of the TRAP laws, the 30 clinics that have closed since 2011 — supported by the sweeping anti-abortion regulations imposed in 2013 — remain closed. Women still don’t have access to the abortion care they need — and it’s causing serious harm. Just this week, we saw new data from the Department of State Health Services in Texas showing that in 2014, there was a 27 percent increase in second-trimester abortions, which though still very safe, are associated with higher risk compared to early abortions. They are also more expensive for women.
Despite Roe v. Wade, despite Whole Woman’s Health, the battle for women’s reproductive rights continues, with Texas leading the way as the state model for punishing, harassing and bullying women for their constitutionally protected right to an abortion.
Texans have just a few weeks to make their voices heard during the public comment period before the final rules take effect in September — and then the legal merry-go-round begins again.