Texas Is the "Big Fish," and the Anti-Abortion Movement Has Lots of Bait in the Water

The First Unitarian Church of Dallas hosted a special guest last week: Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The CRR, if you recall, is the New York-based organization that recently won a preliminary injunction against Texas's proposed sonogram law.

In the church's main sanctuary, Northup spoke to a group of about 25 61 people, mainly women, about strategies to permanently defeat the law. Her talk, and others, underscored that this hasn't just been a bad year for women's health in Texas; she pointed to what she called "an avalanche of anti-choice laws" that were passed this year across the country, about 50 in all.

"This has been a particularly brutal state legislative session for women's healthcare," Kelly Hart, the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Texas, told the crowd. She said PPNT will be closing five health centers  (as we've mentioned before), which they expect will affect more than 10,000 women in the Metroplex. She had strong words for Governor Rick Perry, who, she said, has supported laws this year that attempt "to shame and demean women who want an abortion."

"We're in a dire place, both in our country right now and in Texas this year particularly," Northup added. "Women's reproductive freedom is a fundamental right, a human right that should be recognized by governments everywhere."

According to Northup, that's happening in countries that aren't this one."There have been very heartening decisions outside the U.S.," she said. In Nepal, for example, the Supreme Court recently issued a decision stating that the government is obligated to cover the cost of abortions for women who aren't able to pay themselves. "There are ideas beyond our borders we'd like to see influencing our thoughts here," Northup said.

Texas, though, has become "an anti-choice ground zero" in recent years. (We noticed!) On the sonogram law, she said that abortion opponents "would like to see it prevail here so it could be copied elsewhere." She called the law "patently unconstitutional," and noted that Governor Perry approved it while in the same legislative session vetoing a ban on texting while driving, which he called "a government attempt to micromanage the behavior of adults."

Measures like the sonogram bill, Northup said, are part of a newer strategy for lawmakers who oppose abortion. "They know they can't ban abortion outright," she said. "So they're trying to make it more difficult. They're seeking to make it so that the right can exist on paper, but not be exercised." In many ways, they're succeeding. In 87 percent of U.S. counties, there are no abortion providers. In Texas, that number is 92 percent.

"Our opponents would like to get that number to 100," she said. To that end, North Carolina recently passed a sonogram law similar to the one here. South Dakota now requires women to visit anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers before being allowed to have an abortion, and North Dakota's laws are so stringent, and its providers so limited, that they have what's effectively "an outright ban" on abortion, Northup said. The number and stringency of the laws, she added, is "unprecedented."

Northup said the CRR was heartened that Judge Sam Sparks responded to their recent class action lawsuit by ruling to block key portions of the sonogram bill. "It's a very important initial victory," she said of Sparks' 50-page decision. "He ruled there was no sufficient powerful government interest to compel speech of this sort. It's groundbreaking, the first decision of its kind in a federal court in the United States." Sparks, she added, "sees the true motives" of the bill, "its hypocrisy and tremendous harm." She pointed out that Sparks, although he's been referred to as a liberal activist judge, was actually appointed by George H.W. Bush.

"When we get in front of a fair judge," Northup added, "we can win."

That said, she warned that it's "unwise to be complacent." The state has announced their intention to appeal; they have 60 days to do so, and the court of appeals is expected to render  a decision by the end of the year.

"This is a big battle," Northup said, "Because Texas is a big-fish for the anti-abortion movement."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan