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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Robert T. Garrett

How could Texas Republicans further restrict abortion next year?

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans have led the charge to pass laws to restrict abortion for nearly a quarter-century, but until recently, federal courts let the procedure continue, striking down laws that impinged too much on what was for 49 years a constitutional right.

Legislation on the subject appeased social conservatives, who constitute an important part of the GOP base. There wasn’t much political downside. Much of the time, the new law didn’t alter reality, at least for women of means with health coverage other than Medicaid.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade, though, the free shots on goal are over. Republicans have caught the car they chased for decades. What will they do now?

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said a lot depends on this fall’s contests for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other statewide posts.

“The closer the statewide races, the more reluctant the Republicans are going to be to push the envelope too much in going further on abortion restrictions,” he said. “Whereas a Republican landslide in November will make it very difficult for voices of moderation to be heard, because the response is going to be, ‘Look, people love what we’re doing. We didn’t suffer at the polls from the end of Roe vs. Wade.’”

The 2023 legislative session starts in just six months, and many Republican lobbyists and campaign consultants expect Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to be “the decider” of how far to go on abortion — assuming the GOP continues to dominate state government.

“The person who’s going to have to make the decision is Dan Patrick — on how far he believes Republicans can go without undermining their ability to retain majority control throughout the decade,” Jones said.

Patrick has ironclad control of the Senate. He’s far more emotional in expressing opposition to abortion rights than, say, Gov. Greg Abbott, who greeted the Supreme Court decision with a carefully worded statement that tipped his hat to Justice Samuel Alito & Co. before reciting everything the state is doing for “expectant mothers in need.”

It’s unclear if Patrick would support an idea Attorney General Ken Paxton has raised — using existing state law to impose civil fines of $100,000 on corporations that pay for employees to travel to other states for abortions.

“We’re going to look at it,” Paxton told Leland Vittert, a NewsNation cable TV program host, just hours after the court issued its 6-3 decision June 24.

On Wednesday, Patrick spokesmen did not respond to an email seeking comment. However, on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle two Mondays ago, he assailed the idea of “Biden travel vouchers.”

House Elections Committee Chairman Briscoe Cain, a Republican, managed to get one-sixth of his GOP colleagues to sign a May letter to Lyft warning the company to rescind its abortion travel benefit.

The 14 Republican state representatives said they plan to file bills that would bar corporations from doing business in Texas if they pay for abortions in states where the procedure is legal. That could expose executives to criminal prosecution under Texas’ 1925 abortion accomplice law, recently rejuvenated by Paxton and the Texas Supreme Court. Signees included Dallas-Fort Worth area Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, Jeff Cason Brian Harrison and Tony Tinderholt.

Cain said on WFAA-TV’s Inside Texas Politics last month that in going after abortion funds, doctors, employers and “those giving rides,” he favors legislation that would let rural Republican district attorneys prosecute people in urban counties. That includes places such as Dallas County, where Democratic District Attorney John Creuzot is one of many big-city prosecutors who have said they’ll refuse to bring charges against patients or providers over abortion.

Last month, the state GOP adopted a platform urging the Legislature to “abolish abortion” by granting “equal protection of the laws to all preborn children from the moment of fertilization.” GOP Rep. Jeff Leach and others have said the move would lead to criminal prosecutions of women who have abortions, which remain anathema to mainstream anti-abortion rights groups. Still, activists such as Bradley Pierce of Abolish Abortion Texas continue to back primary challengers to GOP incumbents who won’t go there.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke has seized on the Supreme Court decision in hopes of wooing socially moderate Republican-leaning women and increasing turnout among younger, Democratic-leaning women, said Rice’s Jones.

O’Rourke might profitably stress how the state’s trigger law, likely to take effect in August, bans abortions even in cases of rape and incest, Jones said. And O’Rourke and Democrats can make hay out of the prospect that Cain and other anti-abortion hardliners in the Legislature might try to track women’s digital footprints to stop them from obtaining out-of-state abortions or bringing abortion medications into the state, he added.

“It will have a positive effect for him as long as he doesn’t overplay it,” Jones said of O’Rourke. “Abortion is a tricky topic, in the sense that the median Texas voter still finds abortion to be distasteful and unfortunate, but at times a necessary evil.”

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