In January of this year, member of the Texas House of Representatives Tony Tinderholt introduced Bill 948, otherwise known as a proposition to abolish abortion entirely across the state. The bill put forward by Tinderholt aims to ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy, as well as charge mothers or medical providers with homicide for carrying out the procedure. While the bill itself may not be entirely unfamiliar as vast swathes of the US express deep-seated opposition to the procedure and as between 2011 and 2015, states enacted 287 new legal restrictions for abortion access, the discourse surrounding its introduction has certainly been confounding and infuriating for many.
The Republican state representative reportedly stated in an interview with the Texas Observer that his proposed abortion abolition would reduce the number of pregnancies “when they know there’s repercussions”. Tinderholt went on to say, “Right now, it’s real easy. Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh I can just go get an abortion.’ Now, we both know that consenting adults don’t always think smartly sometimes. But consenting adults need to also consider the repercussions of the sexual relationship that they’re gonna have, which is a child”.
Furthermore, Bill 948 makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and Tinderholt has remarked on this lack of exceptional circumstances by stating, “I don’t think there should be any exceptions to murder”. Democratic Texas state representative, Donna Howard, has responded to Tinderholt’s statements that it is “so ignorant to think that women are somehow irresponsibly deciding that they’re going to go ahead and get pregnant because it’s so easy to get an abortion.”
Currently, Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the nation, including a mandatory counseling session (that has been criticized for propagation of misleading information to women), a 24-hour mandatory waiting period after counseling, parental consent and notice for minors, ultrasound requirements, limitation of medical abortion, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and the limitation of state funding for abortion procedures. And yet, Tinderholt maintains that perhaps the access to the procedure in Texas remains too easy for women – to the point that they are regarding pregnancy with too much flippancy to be considered “personally responsible”.
The Texas GOP members have recently stated that they support “Federal legislation remanding all authority over abortion back to the individual States” and that “abolishing abortion by enacting legislation to stop the murder of unborn children” is a priority for the legislative session. However, the introduction of Bill 948 comes a mere 8 months after the Supreme Court decision to overturn regulations passed in Texas in 2013 (otherwise known as HB 2) that were deemed as placing an undue burden on women’s constitutional right to abortion. The decision struck down requirements for abortions to meet unreasonable guidelines, resulting in the mass closure of clinics and forcing women across the state to travel enormous distances – a significant out-of-pocket expense – to undergo the procedure.
As for how the federal lawmakers will receive Tinderholt’s bill, which also directs state officials to outright ignore “any conflicting federal” law, University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson has stated that, “This is a latter-day attempt at nullification of federal law or Supreme Court decisions and it’s not going to work. Period” and that “there is simply no doubt whatsoever that it is unconstitutional under current law”. It is still unclear if the state legislature will take up the bill, but the public opposition to Bill 948 has been clear and vocal following its introduction, forcing Tinderholt and his family to be placed under the protection of the Texas Department of Public Safety after receiving death threats.
As for what would happen if Bill 948 were to pass in 2017, it wouldn’t simply be a matter of women being inconvenienced. Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas has stated that it would “take us back to a time in Texas when women lost their lives because they were trying to procure illegal abortions” and that this bill comes “from a worldview that completely discount’s people’s agency and autonomy to make a decision in a responsible way”. The social consequences of state-wide abortion abolition would be vast, with severe economic and mental health repercussions for the women of Texas.
However, it remains to be seen if Tinderholt will feel appropriately “personally responsible” for inflicting such hardship on his constituency.