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Texas legislators faced with slashing education funds for children and safety net programs, have instead given "emergency" status to bills to restrict abortion care for women - even before the budget talks occur.

Written by Andrea Grimes for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Across the state of Texas, public officials are watching the 82nd Legislature to find out when they’ll be forced to slash their budgets, and by how much, to accommodate a state financial shortfall that may be as much as $27 billion. Or, if we’re lucky, as little as $15 billion. Right now, the deficit is so huge and the books so complicated, nobody really knows what the final number will be.

In Dallas, where I live, the superintendent of schools recently told the Dallas Observer he may have to cut $260 million in funds for the education of area schoolchildren. He’s just got to wait and see what happens in the "lege."

Meanwhile, down in Austin, the "lege" is dealing with an emergency. But it’s not a budget emergency. It’s not even a financial emergency at all. According to Governor Rick Perry, it’s an emergency that women in Texas are not asked to listen to a fetal heartbeat and have an abortion provider conduct a sonogram that they’ll describe to women in detail two hours before any abortion procedure.

Speaking before an anti-choice rally group at the Texas capitol on the  38th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, Perry told protestors:

"We can’t afford to give up the good fight until the day Roe v. Wade is nothing but a shameful footnote in our nation’s history books."

Anti-choice legislators, led by influential Republican senator Dan Patrick whose Harris County District 7 is one of the wealthiest in the state, have jumped at this chance to push a bevy of abortion-related legislation in Texas this session, with multiple bills calling for pre-procedure sonograms, more calling to eliminate public funding for abortion and also demands to eliminate all public funding to anyone affiliated with abortion providers themselves. Other bills support Texans’ right to buy controversial "Choose Life" license plates, like these available in New Jersey.

But it’s the emergency thing that gets pro-choice activists here. Gov. Perry’s "emergency" designation permits the bills to be heard in the first 60 days of the session—they can’t be heard so early without it. How can medically unnecessary sonograms be an emergency in the face of a multi-billion budget shortfall and economic crisis?

"It never fails to amaze me what an unprincipled little political opportunist our governor is," Sara Cleveland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas told me in a phone interview. "When it comes to interfering in women’s health, suddenly it’s an emergency."

The sonogram legislation is currently in committee and hasn’t been heard on the legislature floor yet. But Gov. Perry’s "emergency" decree has ensured a woman’s right to choose will be addressed well before anyone gets around to that pesky budget thing. Cleveland said she sees the sonogram bills as "paternalistic and unfair," considering women opt for abortions only "after much careful soul-searching and thought."

For legislation that claims to be about "informed consent," the sonogram bills tell women nothing they don’t already know. Said Cleveland:

"We’ve yet to find a woman who believes that if she’s going in for an abortion, that she’s not going to emerge un-pregnant."

At Planned Parenthood of North Texas, director of public affairs Kelly Hart said the sonogram legislation is about "shaming women" and infringing upon a doctor’s ability to say, "this is what a woman needs to get ethical, quality medical care."

It’s worth noting that none of the sonogram bills include exceptions for victims of rape or incest, which means women who are pregnant as a result of these crimes will be forced to comply with the laws if they pass. It’s little more than saying, "Let’s just kick a woman while she’s down," said Hart.

Abortion rights activists hope to see some conservative in-fighting in the legislature since there are multiple versions of these bills floating around at present. Once a single bill is solidified, they say they’ll know how to fight it.

"When anti-choicers get their political ducks in a row," said Sara Cleveland, "we’ll know better how to respond."

In the meantime, the state’s economic and budget crisis will continue to take a back-burner to punishing women who seek abortions. And that, says Hart, is a "slap in the face to the families in Texas who are un- or under-employed" who would benefit from "emergency" legislation that helps them—and public entities like, say, school districts--stay afloat financially.

Originally posted to RH Reality Check on Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 08:31 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Youffraita

    Be sure to see current FP article re:Planned Parenthood-with chart.

    What would the world look like without Planned Parenthood? Well, consider the services they provided in 2008:

    Source: Planned Parenthood 2008-9 annual report
    That's what these guys are fighting against. It's not just abortion. It's contraception, STD prevention, cancer prevention, and other services. In fact, most of what they want to take away are the sorts of things that keep young men and women healthy and prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Their objectives are truly vile. No wonder they don't want to admit what they are fighting for. And when the media give their bogus smear operations airtime, they are aiding and abetting that vile agenda -- an agenda that could not stand on its own two feet.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 08:43:59 AM PST

  •  And yet Texans (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Statusquomustgo, RenMin, DRo

    continue to put these knuckle draggers in office. Make you wonder...

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 08:44:31 AM PST

  •  "emergency" explained (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Youffraita

    The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days every two years. During the first 60 days of those sessions, they're barred from passing legislation. They can look at it, fiddle with it, hold hearings and all of that, but they can't actually vote on it. Unless it's declared an emergency by the governor, in which case they can hurry up and vote (if they want to).

    . . .

    Some urgent issues don't make the list. The new state budget is a mess, but it will take more than 60 days to get that in shape for lawmakers to consider, and it won't take effect until September. Redistricting? A big deal, but the census numbers and maps won't be ready during the first 60 days anyhow.

    Bottom Line: Absent a real emergency, it's a way for governors to highlight their pet issues.

  •  MEN CAN WIN this one, attack women and avoid (0+ / 0-)

    taking on the real issues. It makes the men in the worthles legislature look like they are doing something. DISASTER CAPITALISM- in action. Make headlines with the divide and conquer issues, while making secret abhorrent decisions in the dark of the night, outside the eyes and ears of real journalists.

    E.McCarthy:"Republicans feed the sparrows by first feeding the horses".

    by CarmanK on Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 08:48:50 AM PST

    Recommended by:

    tHEY SPEND SO MUCH TIME DIVIDING PEOPLE BY MAKING THEM ANGRY people get tired of responding. We have to be smarter.

    E.McCarthy:"Republicans feed the sparrows by first feeding the horses".

    by CarmanK on Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 08:50:36 AM PST

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