The lies behind Texas anti-abortion laws and “bathroom bills”

Advocates for transgender Texans opposed to SB 6, the "bathroom bill," converge on the Capitol Extension Rotunda during the Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on the bill on March 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Fear and lies are powerful political weapons: We’re seeing that in Texas right now as our state’s lawmakers talk about public restrooms and abortion.

Safety. Privacy. Protecting women and girls. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Texas politicians use those buzzwords when they talk about passing a so-called “bathroom bill” to discriminate against transgender Texans who simply need to use public restrooms.

Those buzzwords are based on lies. Many states and more than 200 cities already protect the right of transgender people to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. None has reported incidents of someone using these protections to harm others.

Moreover, more than 200 national, state and local groups that advocate against sexual and domestic violence oppose so-called “bathroom bills.” They know it is often transgender people who are the victims of violence in public facilities.

Yet supporters of “bathroom bills” make blanket claims about protecting “women and children,” deliberately disregarding that trans women are women and trans kids are children. The truth is that such bills are simply about shaming and stigmatizing transgender people.

The false argument about safety as justification for restrictions that undermine Texans’ dignity and equality isn’t new for the Legislature. In fact, it’s very similar to the argument lawmakers use when they are trying to legislate abortion out of existence in Texas.

When he was a state senator, Patrick was a co-author on House Bill 2, a 2013 law that imposed severe — and unconstitutional — restrictions on abortion access and led to the closure of many clinics in the state. He and other HB 2 supporters claimed the bill protected women’s health.

The U.S. Supreme Court flatly rejected that lie, striking down two key provisions of the law last year. Relying on peer-reviewed studies and expert testimony, the court “found nothing” to show those provisions improved women’s health. The justices pointed out that Texas could not produce evidence “of a single instance in which the... requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment.”

In response, Patrick doubled down on the lie about women’s safety. “T[he] United States Supreme Court ruling striking down House Bill 2 (HB 2) is a devastating blow to the protection of the health and safety of women in Texas,” he cynically claimed.

The truth is, HB 2’s purpose was simply to shut down clinics and make it harder for women to exercise their constitutionally protected right to obtain a safe, legal abortion.

Just as actual facts and evidence matter with respect to laws regulating women’s access to abortion, they matter with laws regulating the ability of transgender people to participate fully and equally in public life.

The LGBT movement and the movement for abortion access have many overlapping advocates, issues and opponents. We remember the wisdom of those who came before us and we know that these are causes in common, with many of the same politicians legislating against both movements with the same pen. We will continue to fight together against those who use fear and falsehoods to try to divide, silence and shame us.

The truth is simple: Politicians trying to restrict LGBT rights and abortion access tell lies to push their agenda. Then they turn those lies into laws that actively hurt our communities. That’s exactly what Texas lawmakers are trying to do in this special session, where they plan to pursue both a “bathroom bill” and more measures restricting abortion access.

We must be united against those who try to shame, pressure and punish us by trying to control our bodies. We must tell politicians that when they lie, we’re going to be here — together — to call them out.

Disclosure: The Texas Freedom Network has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Kathy Miller

President, Texas Freedom Network

Lisa Scheps

Interim executive director, Transgender Education Network of Texas