February 26, 2003
Strange Bedfellows Dept.

It's an anti-abortion/pro-tort reform smackdown!

Historically, social conservatives have stood beside business interests pushing what proponents call tort reform -- damage caps and other limitations on lawsuits.

Tort reform advocates say ambulance-chasing lawyers have fed a growth in frivolous lawsuits, which have raised the cost of doing business in Texas.

But now, as legislators debate proposals to cap damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, some abortion opponents argue that the caps proposed could result in a higher number of abortion providers. They worry that physicians who don't perform abortions now because of malpractice liability might consider the procedure profitable if potential damages were limited.

A bill proposed by state Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Addison, would put a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, such as those sometimes awarded for pain and suffering. Quantifiable economic damages, such as medical expenses and lost earnings, would not be capped.

While proponents of the bill argue that it won't hurt the family values issues dear to social conservatives, some who want Christian values in government promise a holy war to amend the bill. A vote for this brand of tort reform, they warn, is an unintended vote for more abortions in Texas.

"This isn't going to go away," said Houston attorney Mark Lanier, who is leading an effort among social conservatives to have the legislation changed to exempt abortion malpractice cases from the caps, among other amendments. "This bill undervalues human life."

I love a useful idiot. If it takes a bad argument by bad people to beat a bad bill, then so be it.

I should note that this particular bill is unlikely to pass the Senate as is, since Senator Bill Ratliff (R, Mount Pleasant) is the chair of the Senate Affairs Committee, and he opposes a hard cap on non-economic damages. A compromise bill could get through, but these are the kind of opponents who don't believe in compromise.

At the heart of Lanier's argument is the concern that capping damage awards would result in lower insurance rates, which could make abortions more profitable for doctors who provide them.

The great irony, of course, is that now even the insurance industry says that "tort reform" has not lowered rates. Not that he'd let an inconvenient fact slay his logic, mind you.

Anyway, have at it, fellas. We'll be on the sidelines egging you on.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 26, 2003 to Legal matters | TrackBack