Abortion access advocates in Texas look ahead to 2017

Photo by Allison Shelley

Since the election, people have been asking me how I feel. I'm the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, the abortion fund that serves the northern half of Texas, and people want to know how I feel about our president-elect knowing that he, his future vice president, and their backers in Congress are bent on rolling back Roe v. Wade.

What I tell them is that I work for abortion access in Texas: I'm used to fighting uphill.

While the rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and the legislative legacy of the Mike Pence are certainly scary, various states have been attacking abortion access for over a decade, and Texas is one of them.

We already know what it's like for abortion access to be more myth than reality. And no matter the outcome of the election back on Nov. 8, those of us who work to protect abortion access in Texas were never going to be able to rest.

For instance, on the very first day of bill filing for the 2017 Texas legislative session, state Rep. Matt Schaefer re-filed an anti-choice bill he tried to pass last session. This bill would remove the fetal anomaly exception to Texas's 20-week abortion ban, making it impossible for a woman in that circumstance to make her own decision about her pregnancy. When Schaefer introduced this amendment to a bill last session, he stated that suffering is "part of the human condition, since sin entered the world." I have no issue with people making their own medical decisions based on their personal religious beliefs, but requiring that a person give birth to a fetus with no chance of survival is cruel and unsupported by medical knowledge.

No one should have to suffer for Schaefer's personally held beliefs. Moreover, each of us must be able to make personal decisions that are best for our own circumstances as a pregnancy progresses, including an abortion.

Meanwhile, the Texas Department of State Health Services has announced a new rule to take effect Dec. 19 that forces anyone who has had an abortion or lost a pregnancy to miscarriage to have the remains cremated or buried — regardless of that person's beliefs or desires. This rule isn't based on scientific research or medical best practice. In fact, there are already regulations for the disposal of medical tissue. It is merely a way for Texas to make the abortion procedure more expensive and emotionally traumatic for the patient.

This rule would disproportionately impact the low-income people who call us at the Texas Equal Access Fund hotline seeking funding for their abortions, as it would add cost to the procedure. The solution proposed by the state is as perplexing as it is offensive: handing over the tissue to "volunteers" who will then conduct burials and cremations. This "solution" raises serious questions about medical privacy, in addition to being yet another way to humiliate someone who has had an abortion.

As expected, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick included anti-abortion measures in his top legislative priorities for 2017. He is seeking to ban effective and medically proven abortion procedures and justifying it with inflammatory and unscientific rhetoric. Politicians should not stand in the way of Texans having a range of effective, affordable and medically proven methods of abortion care available as pregnancy progresses.

Patrick also wants to crack down on the "selling of fetal tissue," which is a made-up problem manufactured by bogus sting videos meant to damage our allies at Planned Parenthood. Once again, neither health nor science have anything to do with the proposal.

At Texas Equal Access Fund, we already knew that 2017 was going to be a year of resistance and vigilance. We knew that our voices would be needed at the Capitol to elevate the impact that these proposals and countless others will have on the Texans who call us. Low-income people in Texas bear the brunt of anti-choice legislation. People of color, undocumented people, incarcerated people, people in rural communities and young people already face too many barriers to abortion and are either forgotten, ignored or openly attacked by anti-choice politicians.

But we're ready to take them on. Armed with our recently released Repro Power Dallas agenda, we'll be working with our pro-choice state representatives to push back on these proposals. Regardless of who is in the White House, we here at Texas Equal Access Fund will spend 2017 making sure that people can access abortion when they need it, and building toward a future where every Texan can live with dignity, justice and self-determination.

Nan Little Kirkpatrick

Executive director, Texas Equal Access Fund