With Anti-Abortion 'Trigger' Law Now in Effect, Texas Democrats Set Sights on November Elections

Texas women respond to more abortion restrictions.
Texas women respond to more abortion restrictions. Illustration by Pablo Iglesias
Texas Republican lawmakers made massive gains in banning abortion in recent months, angering many constituents. But as the state’s new trigger ban took effect on Thursday, Texas Democrats called on voters to channel their frustration at the polls in November.

Texas’ trigger law was designed to take effect should the Supreme Court ever overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. The reversal of Roe earlier this summer paved the way for the state’s trigger law to kick in.

Austin state Rep. Donna Howard, who chairs the Texas Women’s Health Caucus, points out that the majority of Texans and Americans want safe, legal access to abortion health care. The recent rejection of an anti-abortion amendment in Kansas shows that voters are recognizing the “severe threats” to their freedoms and democracy at large, she said.

“If you do not have bodily autonomy, you do not have self-determination, and self-determination is foundational to the democratic process,” Howard added. “So, I think it's encouraging to see that people recognize that and realize that this election is going to be pivotal in terms of how we move forward.”

Critics believe the state’s trigger law, which increases civil and criminal penalties for abortion, will further endanger women’s lives. One physician told the Observer earlier this year that abortion bans like Texas’ so-called “Heartbeat Bill” could give some doctors pause during medical emergencies.

Yet while Republicans continue to restrict reproductive rights, Democrats are working to expand their power in November.

“If you do not have bodily autonomy, you do not have self-determination, and self-determination is foundational to the democratic process.” – State Rep. Donna Howard

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Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, warned her followers of the newly enacted ban in a tweet on Thursday.

“Texas' trigger law will punish anyone who provides an abortion with potential LIFE IN PRISON and with fines up to $100,000,” she wrote. “The law is radical and unjust and we WILL FIGHT BACK.”
Current officeholders are also weighing in, including Democratic state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos of Richardson.

“Texas' Abortion Trigger Ban is now in effect. Under this regressive & harmful law, women are forced to remain pregnant regardless of rape or incest,” Ramos said in a Thursday tweet. “If you are a woman feeling lost, angry, or helpless, I urge you to VOTE this November. @GovAbbott is too extreme for Texas.”
Certain Democratic district attorneys have claimed they won't enforce anti-abortion legislation, including Dallas County's John Creuzot.

Texas’ conservative top cop isn’t backing down from the fight over reproductive rights either.

Last month, Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that his office is prepared to aid prosecutors seeking abortion-related criminal charges. He also pursued legal action against President Joe Biden’s administration following an order that advised physicians to provide emergency abortions.

But earlier this week, Paxton was slapped with a lawsuit himself.

Some abortion advocacy groups are suing the attorney general and local prosecutors over claims that the trigger law and other anti-abortion statutes restrict the rights to interstate travel and free speech. Howard points out that the lawsuit may force the attorney general to clarify his stance on the freedom to travel out of state. (Some pregnant Texans have reportedly sought the procedure across state lines.)

And even though Texas’ legislative districts have been gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor, Howard believes there’s still potential to see Democrats in statewide offices.

“The governor has the power of the veto, the lieutenant governor has the power to set the legislative agenda and the attorney general has the power to interpret law,” she said. “And so we could see a real boon to preventing further damage, and perhaps even helping us get some things through that would improve the situation, if we had that kind of leadership.”

There’s evidence that abortion bans lead to the criminalization of groups that are already over-policed, said Elise Higgins, director of reproductive rights with State Innovation Exchange, a nonprofit that works with state legislators nationwide. Such populations include people of color, young folks, the poor and those who are undocumented.

Higgins added that legislatures in Texas and other states nationwide have never been more important. “My hope is that we see sustained investment in state legislatures to move them to a place where the majority reflects the will of the majority of people in our states,” she said, “which has always been and will always be that abortion remains safe and legal and accessible.”
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Simone Carter was a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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