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Senate passes Respect For Marriage Act

Nice. And remember who opposed it, kids.

Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz tried to block a Senate vote to explicitly enshrine equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans into federal law Wednesday, after 12 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to clear the way for the bill’s passage.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2013. The high court went further in 2015 and ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states can’t ban same-sex marriages, declaring that gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans have a constitutional right to marry.

The core provisions of the Respect for Marriage Act would be relevant only if the Supreme Court reverses that decision in the way it revoked a constitutional right to abortion this summer.

The bill would not force states that currently have unenforceable bans on same-sex marriage, like Texas, to offer marriage certificates to gay, lesbian and bisexual couples if Obergefell is overturned. But it would mandate that the state recognize a same-sex marriage that occurred in a state where it is legal. The vote on Wednesday in the Senate clears the way for it to pass the chamber easily. It will then return to the House, where members will consider the amendments made in the Senate. The House passed the original version of the bill in July.

There was a push to get this to a vote before the election, but the decision was made to defer it to the lame duck session. Given that it has now passed the Senate, I can’t argue the logic – sometimes, the result is all that matters. The RFMA has some progressive critics, but the argument for its passage is strong. I have no doubt it will sail through the House. It’s a very good thing, but don’t rest on your laurels because there’s lots more to be done before the end of the year. Mother Jones, TPM, and The 19th have more.

Paxton taken off the hook for testifying in abortion funds’ lawsuit

By the Fifth Circuit, of course.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will not have to testify as nonprofits that help patients legally obtain abortions seek clarity on whether they can do their work in states like Texas where the procedure is outlawed, a federal appellate court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that an Austin federal court judge should have granted Paxton’s motion to quash subpoenas he was served by the plaintiff abortion funds.

The subpoena made national headlines after Paxton evaded a legal messenger who had shown up at his house on the eve of a hearing in the case. Paxton later called the messenger “suspicious” and “erratic” and said he “justifiably feared for his personal safety.”

The abortion funds are suing the state for protection to resume their work amid the state’s newly enforced abortion bans. They have said Paxton’s testimony is necessary because he and his office have made conflicting statements about the legality of helping Texas residents legally obtain abortions in other states, and he is the only person who can clarify their meaning and intent.

“We are happy that Judge Pitman can move forward in the case now, and that the Fifth Circuit has acknowledged the real threats against our clients related to assisting people to access reproductive health care out of state,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a joint statement.

[…]

At first, the district court granted Paxton’s motions to quash the subpoenas; however, after more information came to light — Paxton had claimed he was served “on the literal eve of trial,” yet emails submitted to the court by the abortion funds’ lawyers showed he had at least four days notice — the judge changed course and ordered Paxton to testify.

The appellate judges disagreed with the lower court’s finding that there were “exceptional circumstances” requiring Paxton to testify.

“Paxton’s personal ‘thoughts and statements’ have no bearing on his office’s legal authority to enforce Texas’s abortion laws or any other law,” the panel wrote in the ruling. “It is entirely unexceptional for a public official to comment publicly about a matter of public concern. If doing so imparts unique knowledge, high-level officials will routinely have to testify.”

The panel also disagreed with the lower court’s contention that testifying would not cause a significant burden for Paxton.

“‘High ranking government officials have greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses,'” they wrote, citing prior case law. “Those duties often involve communicating with the public on matters of public interest. The fact that a high-ranking official talks to his constituents does not ipso facto mean he also has ample free time for depositions.”

See here for the background. This is one of those times where I wish the story included a quote or two from an actual legal expert about the opinion. We all know how deeply in the tank for Paxton the Fifth Circuit is, but based on what is reported in the story, the ruling seems at least defensible. But the Fifth Circuit is so utterly corrupt that I can’t rely on my judgment here, and they deserve absolutely no benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to be a chump here, so I’d like to see someone who knows these things render an assessment. In the absence of that, all I have is my well-honed instinct to not trust that terrible court. And we’ll all have the Internet mockery of Ken Paxton for his pusillanimous efforts to evade the process server. Sometimes the snark is the most dependable thing out there.

Our future doctor shortage

Putting a pin in this.

As reported by Jan Hoffman for The New York Times, in order to satisfy their prerequisites for specialty board certification, OB-GYN physicians in post-graduate medical residency programs must comply with national requirements, which include training in the performance of abortions. Such training is considered essential—and characterized as a  “core procedure”—for OB-GYN doctors, in order to properly treat common medical conditions such as miscarriage, infections, and other complications to pregnancy. And in order to receive accreditation, those medical residency programs—typically administered through schools of public health and occurring in hospitals or clinics—must provide that training.

But ever since a radical conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the right to abortion previously guaranteed by Roe v. Wade in June, several Republican-dominated states have passed laws prohibiting abortion and criminalizing its practice by physicians. As a direct result, residency programs that routinely provided their residents with training in abortion care are faced with a dilemma.

As Hoffman observes:

If they continue to provide abortion training in states where the procedure is now outlawed, they could be prosecuted. If they don’t offer it, they risk losing their accreditation, which in turn would render their residents ineligible to receive specialty board certification and imperil recruitment of faculty and medical students.

The absolute necessity of such training for OB-GYN doctors was recently reaffirmed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). There is no exception for states whose Republican legislatures and governors have seen fit to transform the procedure into a criminal offense, although, as Hoffman reports, the guidelines permit a medical resident to “opt out” of such training for “religious or moral reasons.” Under the Council’s guidelines, a physician may also complete such instruction by serving a clinical rotation in a facility located in a state that permits doctors to perform abortions, but both hospital program directors and medical residents interviewed for The Times report expressed the fear that broadly drafted forced-birth laws in Republican-dominated states could still subject them to criminal prosecution.

[…]

For physicians seeking to complete their residencies in states that have or will soon criminalize the performance of abortions, the allowance for “out-of-state” training comes with an array of practical obstacles, from varying licensing and malpractice insurance regulations to housing costs. Hoffman reports that as consequence, physicians have begun to avoid placements in states where abortion is or will soon be illegal. She cites one physician who had been “courted” to join a Wisconsin medical residence program’s faculty who ultimately turned them down, citing the state’s abortion ban.

But the more worrying trend for those who may need OB-GYN care in Republican states is the growing reluctance of medical students to practice in those states.

Hoffman reports:

That is among the reasons that many medical students have said they are applying only to programs where abortion is legal. Public health experts predict that in a few years, patients in abortion-prohibited states, where the ranks of obstetricians are already shrinking, will experience even greater barriers to reproductive health care.

The reasons for this are practical, at least in part: An aspiring OB-GYN resident has little incentive to apply to a program that is not accredited. As Hoffman reports, the ACMGE explored the option of using “simulation” techniques such as virtual instruction or performance of “mock” abortions on models (and even papayas) to provide such training and concluded they were insufficient.  Even those medical students who desire to treat patients in the poorest of these “red-state” areas have balked when they find their programs do not have sufficient resources to place them for out-of-state training.

The effects of all this are as predictable as they are ominous for anyone seeking OB-GYN care in Republican-led states: Because of the very real threat of potential criminal prosecution, many of the most qualified and talented medical students will naturally apply tor OB-GYN residency programs in states where abortion is legal; in turn, those programs become more selective, admitting only the top students.  Meanwhile, students who simply may wish to practice OB-GYN in a “red state” are disincentivized to do so, by barriers to accreditation or the simple expense and logistics of obtaining such training out of their chosen state.

Finally, as Hoffman notes, the prohibitions against abortion in “red” states have deterred medical students pursuing careers in those states even in fields other than OB-GYN. She cites a study of third- and fourth-year medical students conducted for The Lancet Americas which interviewed those students about their preferred career placements; 60% wouldn’t apply to programs in forced-birth states. And “more than three-quarters of 500 responses” were from students pursuing specialties that were NOT obstetrics and gynecology.

Maybe it doesn’t play out this way. Maybe between elections and societal pressure, we get enough relaxation of the current forced-birth legislation to mitigate this effect. Maybe the effect only really hits poor people, so it never becomes a “real” issue to the Legislature. Maybe we just wind up with more Republican doctors. Who knows? Like I said, I’m putting a pin in this so that if five years from now the news in Texas is about how hard it’s becoming to find doctors in parts of the state where that previously had not been a problem, or how the major medical centers in Texas are having a hard time getting new interns and residents, we’ll be able to say we saw it coming. At least, some of us saw it coming.

Anti-gay Waco JP’s lawsuit still tossed

Good.

An Austin intermediate appellate court has upheld a Travis County judge’s decision to throw out McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley’s lawsuit against the state panel that sanctioned her in 2019 for refusing to perform same-sex weddings.

In an opinion issued Thursday, the 3rd Court of Appeals affirmed 459th State District Judge Jan Soifer’s June 2021 decision to dismiss Hensley’s lawsuit against the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The appellate court judges agreed with Soifer that the commission has statutory and sovereign immunity from the claims, that Hensley failed to exhaust other legal remedies before filing her lawsuit and that she failed to establish her claims that commission members were without legal authority to issue the public reprimand against Hensley.

Hensley has said she has always expected the case will ultimately be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Texas. She referred questions about the Thursday ruling to her attorneys at the First Liberty Institute, a high-profile religious liberty legal group based in Plano.

[…]

Hensley, a Republican who is unopposed in Tuesday’s election in her bid for a third term, has officiated at weddings between men and women but refused to perform weddings for same-sex couples, saying it goes against her “Bible-believing Christian conscience.”

She said Thursday she has stopped performing any weddings while her lawsuit is pending. Her lawsuit alleges the commission violated her rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The commission’s public warning against Hensley said she violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by “casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.” It also said she has refused to perform same-sex weddings since August 2016, despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established constitutional rights to same-sex marriage.

Hensley’s lawsuit originally was filed in McLennan County. However, it was transferred to Travis County after a contested hearing.

Her petition asserts the commission violated her rights by punishing her for “recusing herself from officiating at same-sex weddings, in accordance with the commands of her Christian faith.” She also claimed “the commission’s investigation and punishment” of her placed a substantial burden on her free exercise of religion.

See here, here, and here for the background. The court information on the case is here, and there was both a majority opinion and a concurring opinion, in which one Justice agreed with the judgment but not the reasoning behind it. I didn’t slog my way through the majority opinion, but all it’s doing is upholding the lower court, so there’s nothing new here. I stand by what I wrote about her lawsuit when she filed it in 2019. I only regret that she hasn’t seen fit to take my advice. I’m sure this will get to SCOTx and from there who knows what will happen, but for now justice has been served. Thanks to my friend Carmen for giving me a heads up about this one – I had briefly seen a headline about the opinion, which came out last week, but hadn’t gotten back to it. The DMN has more.

The surge in mail order abortion pills

We’ll see how long this lasts. We know the Lege is going to take aim at it.

Requests for mail-order abortion pills continued to spike in Texas, nearly doubling this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to new research.

Texas saw the sixth highest jump in weekly requests among states reviewed, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The state is among a handful that now prohibit abortions in almost all cases, following the court’s decision to roll back federal abortion protections.

Mail-order abortion requests were already rising dramatically in Texas amid the state’s six-week abortion ban, which took effect last September. The new research found that Aid Access, the Austrian nonprofit that ships abortion pills to consumers in the U.S., received an average of 5.5 requests per week, per 100,000 Texans of reproductive age through August, up from 2.9 between September and June. There are about seven million women of reproductive age in the state.

The study provides further evidence that Texans are finding ways to access abortion even under the state’s strict new laws. Moreover, Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas Austin and the paper’s lead author, said requests for abortion pills increased in states even where abortions remain legal, suggesting that people are also getting more comfortable in general with the idea of managing their own abortions.

“I think it’s an unintended and kind of ironic consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said. “They often actually illuminate the idea of self-managed abortion for people because it gets talked about in the media and people hear about it through social media platforms.”

[…]

Mail-order abortion requests were already rising dramatically in Texas amid the state’s six-week abortion ban, which took effect last September. The new research found that Aid Access, the Austrian nonprofit that ships abortion pills to consumers in the U.S., received an average of 5.5 requests per week, per 100,000 Texans of reproductive age through August, up from 2.9 between September and June. There are about seven million women of reproductive age in the state.

The study provides further evidence that Texans are finding ways to access abortion even under the state’s strict new laws. Moreover, Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas Austin and the paper’s lead author, said requests for abortion pills increased in states even where abortions remain legal, suggesting that people are also getting more comfortable in general with the idea of managing their own abortions.

“I think it’s an unintended and kind of ironic consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said. “They often actually illuminate the idea of self-managed abortion for people because it gets talked about in the media and people hear about it through social media platforms.”

I’m glad that people are finding ways, but as helpful as Aid Access is, it’s inherently fragile. Draconian measures may be required to damage its ability to provide its service, but I have no doubt that the forced birth contingent will be all in on such measures. It’s just a matter of when they hit on the right tactic, which they did with SB8 for doctor-provided abortions. And of course, while the medication can cover most of the early abortions, it’s the ones that come later in pregnancy, the ones that are the result of a pregnancy gone wrong and which threaten the health of the mother that remain. The accompanying horror stories – it’s also just a matter of time before some nice white suburban lady who already has a couple of kids dies as a result of being unable to get a medically necessary abortion in a timely manner – will stay with us for the longer term. The Trib and Texas Public Radio have more.

State Bar complaint against Ted Cruz was dismissed

This story ran a few days ago.

Not Ted Cruz

A lawyer group that brought ethics complaints against Trump attorneys is trying to make it tougher for lawyers to use the legal system to overturn elections.

The group, called the 65 Project, aims to change bar rules of professional conduct in 50 states and the District of Columbia to eliminate “fraudulent and malicious lawsuits” against fair election results.

“Lawyers purport to be self-regulatory and special stewards of the rule of law,” Paul Rosenzweig, a group advisory board member, told reporters Wednesday. “They failed in that responsibility” with the 2020 election.

The effort is a new front in the group’s self-described battle to protect democracy from abuse of the legal system. 65 Project has already filed 55 state bar ethics complaints against lawyers for former President Donald Trump over their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The group’s targets have included former Foley & Lardner partner Cleta Mitchell, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and lawyers Joseph diGenova and Boris Epshteyn.

Part of 65 Project’s new effort includes proposing rules to prevent attorneys in public office from violating attorney standards by amplifying false statements about elections.

The group is focusing initially on about a dozen states, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and DC, said Michael Teter, a former Utah assistant attorney general who is Project 65’s managing director.

See here for the background. The Bloomberg Law story says that all of the 65 Project’s complaints are active, but that is not accurate. According to the DMN, which I was able to quickly peruse before the paywall came up, the complaint was dismissed by the State Bar of Texas on June 13, a few weeks after it was filed. The reason, as noted in the sub-head of the story, is that the State Bar said they lacked oversight since Cruz was acting as a Senator and not a lawyer; their dismissal letter didn’t address the merits of the complaint. A minor consolation, that. We are still waiting for a ruling in the complaint against Ken Paxton; a ruling by a different judge in the case against Paxton deputy Brent Webster does not bode well for the complainants, but I suppose it’s not over till it’s over. There’s still a possible appeal of that ruling, which as far as I know has not yet been filed. I fear all of them will get away with it, which is too depressing to contemplate. We’ll know soon enough.

So many abortion clinics have closed

Most of them are in Texas.

More than half of the 23 abortion clinics in Texas have closed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, according to a new report.

Twelve clinics have shuttered their operations entirely in the state, and the rest have focused on other services, which could include cancer screenings, STI treatments and contraception, according to the review by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health access. The count did not include a list of clinics that have closed.

Nearly half of the 26 abortion clinics that have closed nationally since the court’s decision were in Texas, according to the report.

[…]

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, which lifted federal abortion protections, several independent abortion providers announced they were relocating their Texas operations to states where the procedure is still allowed. Whole Woman’s Health, which is moving its Texas operations to New Mexico, had worked in Texas for nearly 20 years, with clinics in Austin, McAllen, Fort Worth, and McKinney before this summer.

Whole Woman’s Health now offers a program in which Texas patients who are up to 11 weeks pregnant can go to New Mexico or four other states for a telemedicine appointment and pick up prescribed abortion medication in that state. It also plans to open a physical clinic in New Mexico and is in the process of searching for a building.

“We know the same amount of people in the community we serve still need abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the group’s founder and CEO. “The ban doesn’t do anything to prevent unplanned pregnancies; it just keeps people from getting professional medical care.”

Two things to keep in mind here. One is that the number of clinics in Texas at the time of the Dobbs decision was already way down from the early 2010s. This is because of the the anti-abortion law that was passed in 2013, the one that Wendy Davis famously filibustered against, which was aimed at regulating clinics out of business; this was a prime example of a so-called TRAP law, which stood for “targeted restrictions (or regulations) on abortion providers”. You know, the law that forced abortion clinics to transform themselves into ambulatory surgical units and did things like require minimum corridor widths, under the bullshit guise of “safety”. The Supreme Court in 2015, which still had Anthony Kennedy on it, threw out this law on the grounds that it was a lying pile of baloney that did nothing to actually promote safety and put an “undue burden” on the providers. (The case was Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt, you may have heard of it.) For a brief shining moment, clinics and abortion advocates in Texas began making plans to sue the state over other restrictive laws that this decision would have rendered unconstitutional.

And then 2016 happened, and we know the rest. But the point is that in between the passage of the 2013 TRAP law and the 2015 Hellerstedt decision, more than half of the clinics that had provided abortions in Texas had closed. None, as far as I know, had reopened following Hellerstedt, though going by the numbers in both stories it’s likely some new places began offering abortion services. However you slice it, the number of clinics that were around to close this year was down sharply from less than ten years ago. We were already a state where getting an abortion was exceedingly difficult to do for many women.

What this all means is that even if Democrats manage to fill the inside straight and put themselves in a position to re-establish abortion rights nationwide in 2023, we’re a long way off from abortion being readily available in Texas again. That process could take a decade or more, and that’s assuming that Republicans don’t gain a trifecta and do a national abortion ban or some other horrible thing. We have some hope of making the laws right again. Getting back to where we were, let alone where we need to be, that is a much longer-term project. Daily Kos has more.

You can be gay, you just can’t act gay

So rules a notoriously anti-gay Trump judge, narrowing a SCOTUS ruling from just two years ago at the behest of the usual suspect.

A federal judge has ruled that Biden administration guidelines requiring employers to provide protections for LGBTQ employees go too far, in a win for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who brought suit against the rules last fall.

The rules were first issued after the landmark ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex or religion, includes protection for gay and transgender people.

In 2021, the Biden administration released guidance around the ruling, noting that disallowing transgender employees to dress and use pronouns and bathrooms consistent with their gender identity constituted sex discrimination.

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump-appointed U.S. district court judge for the Northern District of Texas, found that Title VII prohibits employment discrimination against an individual for being gay or transgender, “but not necessarily all correlated conduct,” including use of pronouns, dress and bathrooms.

Earlier this year, after Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors could be considered child abuse, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra released additional guidance that federally funded agencies can’t restrict people from accessing “medically necessary care, including gender-affirming care, from their health care provider solely on the basis of their sex assigned at birth or gender identity.” Kacsmaryk also ruled to vacate that guidance.

[…]

Kacsmaryk is himself known for his opposition to expanding or protecting LGBTQ rights. Before being nominated to the bench, Kacsmaryk was the deputy general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal organization focused on religious liberty cases. In a 2015 article arguing against the Equality Act, Kacsmaryk wrote that the proposed legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity would “punish dissenters, giving no quarter to Americans who continue to believe that marriage and sexual relations are reserved to the union of one man and one woman.”

In a 2015 article for the National Catholic Register titled “The Abolition of Man … and Woman,” Kacsmaryk called the term gender identity “problematic” and wrote that, “The campaigns for same-sex ‘marriage’ and ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ (SOGI) legislation share a common legal theory: Rules predicated on the sexual difference and complementarity of man and woman are relics of a benighted legal regime designed to harm ‘LGBT’ persons, or at least deny them ‘full equality.’”

I wonder sometimes how Ken Paxton would do if instead of being able to pick his judges he always had to argue his cases in front of a judge that, you know, ruled on the law and the merits of the case rather than on what they felt like. Probably would have a lower batting average, I’m thinking. Anyway, that ruling was 6-3, with Gorsuch the author and Roberts joining him and the (at the time) four liberals. That means that five judges who ruled for the plaintiffs are still there. It’s certainly possible, maybe even likely, that the Biden administration read that ruling in as expansive a manner as they thought they could, and as such they could have overstepped what SCOTUS had in mind. I suppose we’ll get to find out, once the Fifth Circuit does its duty of upholding the ruling. We know that in general this SCOTUS doesn’t give a crap about precedent, but maybe they’ll feel differently when it’s their own precedent.

Evade this, Kenny

Paxton gets ordered to testify, along with an old-fashioned bench slapping.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge has ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to testify in an abortion rights lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman had previously quashed the subpoena, which Paxton fled his home to avoid being served.

In a hearing last week, lawyers representing abortion rights nonprofits asked Pitman to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman granted their motion on Tuesday.

These nonprofits, called abortion funds, brought the lawsuit in August, seeking assurance that they will not be criminally or civilly penalized for helping Texans pay for abortions out of state. They have argued that Paxton’s statements on social media and in the press make it clear that the state’s top lawyer believes the abortion funds can and should be prosecuted for their work over state lines.

[…]

[I]n Tuesday’s order, [Judge Pitman] said he [originally quashed the subpoena] “on the assumption that counsel for Paxton had made candid representations to the Court … only to learn later that Paxton failed to disclose Plaintiffs’ repeated emails attempting to inquire as to whether Paxton could testify.”

Pitman also sided with the abortion funds’ argument that Paxton has unique, first-hand knowledge that requires him to testify.

“The Court will not sanction a scheme where Paxton repeatedly labels his threats of prosecution as real for the purposes of deterrence and as hypothetical for the purposes of judicial review,” Pitman wrote.

He also rejected the argument that requiring Paxton to testify would be too much to ask of the state’s top lawyer.

“It is challenging to square the idea that Paxton has time to give interviews threatening prosecutions but would be unduly burdened by explaining what he means to the very parties affected by his statements,” Pitman wrote. “The burden faced by Plaintiffs—the effective cessation of many core operations—outweighs the burden of testimony faced by Paxton.”

Pitman gave lawyers on both sides a week to determine how and when Paxton will testify.

See here, here, and here for the background. Judge Pitman’s order is practically perfect. I have no notes. I look forward to seeing how Paxton responds to questions from someone who isn’t a sycophant. The Chron has more.

The hearing that Paxton was trying to flee from

It’s about whether the First Amendment rights of abortion funds have been abridged by threats of prosecution from people like Ken Paxton. You know, no big deal.

Leaders of Texas’ most prominent abortion funds on Tuesday implored a federal judge to give them clearance to resume providing assistance to people seeking abortions in states where the procedure is legal.

The funds filed the class-action suit in August seeking to block state and local prosecutors from suing them if they get back to work offering Texans funding and support for travel, lodging, meals and child care, among other expenses incurred while they obtain abortions. On Tuesday, they sought to temporarily block any potential prosecutions until the case is decided.

The groups halted abortion support operations in June after the Supreme Court issued its decision this summer overturning federal protections for the procedure. The decision also led clinics throughout the state to stop providing abortion services.

The legal battle carries immense implications for thousands of Texans seeking abortions, who will inevitably incur higher costs as they depend on other states due to Texas’ near-total abortion ban. Studies show the vast majority of pregnant people pursue abortion for financial reasons, and most who obtain abortions are low-income people of color.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, is named as a defendant in the suit, as well as a number of county and district attorneys who are responsible for enforcing the state’s abortion bans. Some local prosecutors in liberal-leaning counties have pledged not to prosecute, while others in redder counties have said they will.

The plaintiffs point to “myriad threats” of prosecution by the attorney general “and his associates,” including social media posts, statements and cease-and-desist letters sent by members of the hard-line conservative Texas Freedom Caucus to corporations.

Caucus member and Deer Park Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain has also sent similar letters to Texas abortion funds, including plaintiff organizations, saying their donors, employees and volunteers are subject to prosecution under the pre-Roe statutes, according to the suit.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that the state’s pre-Roe statutes, which make it illegal to “(furnish) the means for procuring an abortion,” are enforceable.

The plaintiffs also cited an advisory issued by Paxton just hours after the Dobbs decision was announced that stated the pre-Roe statutes could be enforced by district and county attorneys immediately.

[…]

The abortion funds claim in their suit that charitable donations are a protected form of freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment, but the possibility of debilitating litigation has chilled their exercise of those rights. It has also, they argue, scared some donors out of giving freely to the group.

“Despite their strong desires and commitment to assisting their fellow Texans, Plaintiffs will be unable to safely return to their prior operations until it is made clear that Defendants have no authority to prosecute Plaintiffs or seek civil penalties from them for their constitutionally protected behavior,” they state in the suit.

See here for some background, and I’ll get back to this in a minute. The Trib adds some details.

They have asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for a preliminary injunction that would stop Paxton from pursuing criminal charges or civil penalties against abortion funds. The state has countered that their fear of prosecution is “self-imposed,” as the attorney general cannot bring criminal charges and the law that allows him to bring civil penalties does not apply to abortion funds.

At the end of the seven-hour hearing Tuesday, Pitman noted that while attorneys for the state had repeatedly implied that the abortion funds had “nothing to worry about,” they had stopped short of saying so directly.

Pitman is expected to rule on the request for a preliminary injunction in the coming weeks but in the meantime is also considering a motion to require Paxton to testify himself. Before the hearing Tuesday, Pitman quashed a subpoena seeking the attorney general’s testimony, but lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider. Paxton fled his home Monday to avoid being served with the original subpoena.

The lawsuit also seeks clarity on whether a Texas-based abortion provider can perform abortions for Texans in other states where the procedure remains legal, or provide telehealth services from Texas to patients in other states.

On that question, the attorney for the state was even less definitive about whether the attorney general would try to enforce the civil penalties in the law, saying that situation was not amenable to a clear “up or down” answer but would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

[…]

But all of that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, allowing states to set their own laws on abortion. Immediately, Paxton issued guidance that said prosecutors could “immediately pursue criminal prosecutions based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe that were never repealed by the Texas Legislature.”

“Under these pre-Roe statutes, abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today,” Paxton wrote.

But those pre-Roe statutes don’t criminalize just abortion providers — they also criminalize anyone who “furnishes the means” for an abortion, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Immediately, abortion funds in Texas stopped their operations, citing confusion over whether paying for abortions out of state constituted furnishing the means for an illegal abortion. As the leaders of several abortion funds testified to on Tuesday, they were particularly alarmed by Paxton’s statement that his office would “assist any local prosecutor who pursues criminal charges.”

Their fears were exacerbated, according to testimony, when a group of conservative lawmakers in the Texas House, including Cain, issued a letter to Sidley Austin, a prestigious law firm that had offered to pay for its Texas-based employees to travel out of state to get abortions. In the letter, the lawmakers threatened the law firm with criminal prosecution for their actions.

Based on these indications from Paxton and lawmakers, “we believed we would be prosecuted, to be frank,” Anna Rupani, the executive director of Fund Texas Choice said Tuesday.

This freeze on their work came with other consequences, according to Tuesday’s testimony. Several of the funds said they had lost donors or had to spend more time reassuring donors who were confused and worried. Some said they had lost staff or board members over fear of criminal prosecution.

Lawyers for the state, though, argued that this chilling effect was “self-imposed” and “unreasonable.” None of the people the abortion funds cited threats from — Cain, the other legislators or Paxton himself — have the ability to bring criminal charges against anyone.

Only district and county attorneys can bring criminal charges in Texas; the prosecutors named on this lawsuit have agreed not to press charges against abortion funds for paying for out-of-state abortions until the case is fully resolved.

Paxton, though, still has the ability to pursue civil cases and, in the case of Texas’ more recent abortion laws, is actually required to by state statute.

To me, the most salient fact of this case is this, and here I quote from my earlier post: “[I]n their amicus brief to a writ of mandamus that blocked a lower court order that would have enjoined the 1925 state law criminalizing abortion, 70 Republican legislators argued that criminal penalties should apply to people who help others get an abortion.” I Am Not A Lawyer, but it seems to me that a very credible threat of being thrown in jail for your political advocacy is a First Amendment issue. That said, I think we all know what will happen here: Judge Pitman will grant the restraining order, and the Fifth Circuit will block it for no good reason. And so back to SCOTUS we go, and I sure hope they enjoy being constantly dragged into every abortion fight that they said should have been a state issue. What happens from there, I have no idea.

District court judge dismisses State Bar complaint against Brent Webster

This is a bad ruling, and it needs to be appealed.

A Texas district judge has dismissed a professional misconduct lawsuit against a top aide of Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to discipline them for their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Milam County Judge John W. Youngblood ruled last week that his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the matter, agreeing with the attorney general’s argument that doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine by interfering in an executive branch matter.

“To find in the commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s broad power to file lawsuits on the state’s behalf, a right clearly supported by the Texas Constitution and recognized repeatedly by Texas Supreme Court precedent,” Youngblood wrote.

A similar case filed by the State Bar against Paxton is still before a Collin County judge and has not yet been decided.

[…]

Jim Harrington, a member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a coalition of lawyers including two former State Bar presidents, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the State Bar, called the ruling a “legal charade.” The group also filed complaints that prompted the bar to file suits against Paxton and Webster.

“The logic of the judge’s decision is that, if a lawyer works for the Attorney General, there is no way to hold the lawyer accountable for ethical violations and professional misconduct,” Harrington said in a statement. “In other words, the attorney general’s office is above the law. That is contrary to the principle of the Constitution, and we hope the State Bar will appeal the ruling.”

Ratner, a co-founder of the group and a Maryland attorney, said he, too, was disappointed in the ruling and added that it misconstrued the premise of the suit.

“While separation of powers authorizes the Attorney General to decide what lawsuits to file on the State’s behalf, we believe it does not authorize him to make misrepresentations and dishonest statements to a court in violation of his duties as a Texas-licensed lawyer,” Ratner said. “That’s what’s involved here.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the letter the judge sent. Not a formal opinion, though I suppose he could still write one, just a one page letter. Obviously, if this judge fully bought into Ken Paxton’s sleazy and self-serving line of defense, it doesn’t bode well for the complaint against him. I think Jim Harrington has this exactly right, and I hope the State Bar has the wisdom and the guts to appeal this. Anything less would be a dereliction of their duty. The Trib has more.

Fifth Circuit upholds Texas’ ridiculous social media censorship law

Back to you, SCOTUS.

A Texas law prohibiting large social media companies from banning users’ posts based on their political viewpoints will go into effect after a federal appeals court on Friday lifted a block placed on the statute.

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association sued Texas after the law, known as House Bill 20, was passed last year, arguing that internet companies have a First Amendment right to curate content posted on their platforms and decide which types of speech they saw fit to be there.

In its ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the law was unconstitutional, saying they were seeking protection to “muzzle free speech.”

“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” the ruling says.

The CCIA said the ruling forced tech companies to give equal treatment to all manners of speech, including extremist views.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision. Forcing private companies to give equal treatment to all viewpoints on their platforms places foreign propaganda and extremism on equal footing with decent Internet users, and places Americans at risk,” the group said. “‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are both viewpoints, and it is unwise and unconstitutional for the State of Texas to compel a private business to treat those the same.”

See here for the previous update, in which SCOTUS blocked the law pending the Fifth Circuit’s ruling on the appeal, and here for a copy of the opinion. I think this sums it all up:

You and me both. We’ve now reached that point, and as everyone expects this to be appealed it will be back to SCOTUS for the final word. I have no idea what to expect. The Chron has more.

Republicans propose nationwide abortion ban

It was ever thus.

Republicans are struggling with the backlash against the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and a series of Republican-controlled states instituting harsh abortion bans. Voters are angry, and that anger has contributed to a reduction in Republican hopes for November’s midterm elections. So what are they doing about it? Well, Sen. Lindsey Graham is going to introduce a national 15-week abortion ban.

That’s one way to do things. Voters are angry that your party is banning abortion in the states? Go ahead and ban it nationally! Many in your party defended the Supreme Court’s move as backing states’ rights on this issue? Take it federal!

Graham’s move is a political calculation. He’s calling his 15-week abortion ban—which falls far short of Roe’s standard of viability, usually around 23 or 24 weeks—the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act.” He thinks he can convince swing voters to hear “late-term abortions” and “pain-capable” and think, “This is a reasonable limit I can support in the name of compromise.”

But that’s presuming that voters will hear those words and not just “national abortion ban.” Or that they won’t see through the fact that what Graham proposes is a sharp cut from what had been the national standard for nearly five decades.

[…]

It’s not hard to see what Graham thinks he is doing with this messaging bill that has no chance of passing in a Congress controlled by Democrats or being signed by a Democratic president. He’s trying to use the deceptive name of the bill to convince voters that Republicans just have reasonable goals when it comes to a national abortion ban. The thing is, Republicans haven’t given voters a lot of reason to trust them on this issue, given the harsh abortion bans in so many Republican-controlled states, and the horror stories coming out of those states of women denied care for miscarriages or pregnancies that threaten their health, or child rape victims forced to travel out of state for medical care. And Graham’s ban wouldn’t reinstitute abortion rights up to 15 weeks in the states with near-total bans—it would only limit abortion rights where they currently exist.

It is also, of course, a huge betrayal of everything Republicans have said about states’ rights. Here’s Graham himself, just last month: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion.” It isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a surprise that Graham is a giant liar on this front, but it’s another reminder that the implication that Republicans just want to pass this oh-so-reasonable “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act” isn’t just a lie when it comes to the name of the bill, it’s a lie about their larger ambitions. They’re just getting started with this, and yes, Republicans want a national abortion ban.

The first thing you need to understand is this:

Yes. Marshall expands on that here:

Republicans want to portray this as a reasonable national compromise, setting a national standard as I’ve seen even some journalists put it. But that’s not what it is. It doesn’t set a national 15 or 20 week standard. All the total restrictions which are now common in red and some purple states stay in place. It simply takes the Mississippi law which brought us the Dobbs decision and imposes it on every blue state. So what Mississippi passed and which was treated as extreme a year ago will become the law in California, New York, Illinois, Washington state and everywhere else. In practice it’s a blue state abortion ban. Abortion’s already banned in the great majority of red states or soon will be.

Republicans leave the decision to the states. Unless a state protects abortion rights. In which case Republicans ban it for them.

It is critical at every stage — though I suspect most won’t need it pointed out — that this is a national ban. Even if it’s 15 weeks versus from the moment of conception, it is a national ban. So if you’re relying on your blue state politics making this someone else’s problem you’re out of luck. It’s coming for you. And it certainly won’t stop with a 15 week ban.

If this were both a limit and a guarantee – that is, abortion is legal up to 15 weeks but no more, except in broadly-defined cases where the pregnant person’s life or health is in danger, then maybe this could have some traction. It would still be a big setback for abortion rights in mostly blue states, but it would make abortion at least theoretically available again in roughly half the country, including Texas. This is close to the preferred outcome of John Roberts, who simply wanted to uphold the Mississippi 15-week ban and make Roe smaller, not throw it on the trash heap and then light it on fire. Such bans have failed nationally and in some states when put to the voters, and post-Dobbs it’s harder to see anyone who isn’t a committed forced-birther feeling like “compromise” is the right answer, but it would at least make the Republicans look like they were willing to give some ground. This is nothing like that.

Republicans in the Senate mostly greeted this bill by reacting as they would to a dead cat on their front porch. And if they’re really lucky…

I approve of this message. Slate has more.

It’s the year 2022 and we’re still litigating the Affordable Care Act

Isn’t this horse dead yet?

A federal judge in Fort Worth agreed Wednesday with a group of Christian conservatives that Affordable Care Act requirements to cover HIV prevention drugs violate their religious freedom.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor also agreed that aspects of the federal government’s system for deciding what preventive care is covered by the ACA violates the Constitution.

O’Connor’s ruling could threaten access to sexual and reproductive health care for more than 150 million working Americans who are on employer-sponsored health care plans. It is likely to be appealed by the federal government.

This lawsuit is the latest in a decade of legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, many of which have run through O’Connor’s courtroom. In 2018, O’Connor ruled that the entirety of the ACA was unconstitutional, a decision that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue in the class-action lawsuit is a 2020 mandate requiring health care plans to cover HIV prevention medication, known as PrEP, free of charge as preventive care.

In the suit, a group of self-described Christian business owners and employees in Texas argue that the preventive care mandates violate their constitutional right to religious freedom by requiring companies and policyholders to pay for coverage that conflicts with their faith and personal values.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by Austin attorney Jonathan Mitchell, the legal mind behind Texas’ civilly enforced six-week abortion ban. In the suit, Mitchell also challenges the entire framework through which the federal government decides what preventive services get covered.

O’Connor threw out several of Mitchell’s arguments but agreed that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s system for deciding what health care services are required to be fully covered under the ACA violates the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“At a high level, this lawsuit is part of a larger pushback against the government’s ability to regulate,” said Allison Hoffman, a law professor at Penn Carey Law at the University of Pennsylvania. “And then also asking what happens when regulations and religion clash.”

[…]

The lawsuit specifically addresses PrEP, but O’Connor’s ruling, which addresses how the federal government can decide what preventive care is covered in employer health care plans, may end up having much more wide-reaching consequences, Hoffman said.

“We’re talking about vaccines, we’re talking about mammograms, we’re talking about basic preventative health care that was being fully covered,” she said. “This is opening the doors to things that the ACA tried to eliminate, in terms of health plans that got to pick and choose what of these services they fully covered.”

The American Medical Association, along with 60 leading medical organizations, issued a statement condemning the lawsuit.

“With an adverse ruling, patients would lose access to vital preventive health care services, such as screening for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, heart disease, diabetes, preeclampsia, and hearing, as well as access to immunizations critical to maintaining a healthy population,” the organizations wrote.

While implementation has not been as universal as hoped, fully funded preventive care through the ACA has been shown to be largely effective at improving health outcomes, reducing health care spending and increasing uptake of these services.

It’s a familiar set of villains, including the hand-picked judge, making the same kind of tired arguments about how “Christians” deserve to be exempt from laws they don’t like, even at the expense of literally everyone else’s health. And while SCOTUS has regularly batted aside these malicious lawsuits, I don’t have any faith they’ll do the same this time. TPM, Reform Austin, and The 19th have more.

“Safe haven” laws are also not a replacement for abortion

Continuing a theme.

What are safe haven laws?

flurry of Houston baby abandonments in the ’90s led Texas to become the first state to enact a safe haven law in 1999.

Created as an incentive for parents in crisis who are unable to care for their newborns, the law allow parents to drop off babies 60 days or younger at any hospital, fire station or EMS station in the state, no questions asked.

The baby will then be protected and given medical care until a permanent home is found. Provided the baby arrives unharmed and safe, the parents avoid prosecution for abandonment or neglect.

Do people actually use the laws?

Roughly 400,000 babies are born in Texas each year, but data shows that a small fraction of people actually utilize the option.

Just 172 infants have been relinquished under the state’s safe haven law since 2009, according to data from the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Why?

Most families have likely never heard of it, said Sheila M. Katz, a sociology professor at the University of Houston.

This is especially true for middle- and low-income families who may not have the “extra bandwidth” to explore something until they’re in the situation, Katz said.

[…]

Katz said safe haven laws are “very good” at doing what they’re designed to do, but weren’t created to be an option for people unwilling to continue pregnancies.

“It’s taking a law and trying to make it look like a band-aid for bigger issues,” she said.

“If a woman is in an unhealthy relationship and decides to get an abortion to sever ties,” Katz added, “a safe haven law will not help in this situation.”

Or, to put it another way, people who choose to get abortions do so because they don’t want to be pregnant. There’s a separate decision made about what to do after giving birth once that one has been made. The impression I get is that the kind of person who would dump a baby at a fire station is someone who felt truly desperate and trapped and without any other option. While it is very likely that the post-Dobbs criminalization of abortion in Texas will increase that population, the availability of abortion pills and the still-robust abortion access network may mitigate that. I could be wrong, of course – we may in fact see enough of an increase in that population to drive an equivalent increase in the number of babies getting deposited at these locations. If you think that’s something to cheer about, well, you know what I think of you.

VA says it will provide abortions

Very interesting.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday it will provide abortions for veterans and their beneficiaries as medically necessary or in cases of rape or incest.

The VA said it plans to provide abortions across the entire nation — including states, such as Texas, that prohibit the procedure. The VA’s decision reopens access to abortion to a class of women in Texas and several other states.

Texas is home to more than 1.5 million veterans. About 193,000 of those are women — more than any other state.

Texas lawmakers approved a ban on abortion that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the case that established a nationwide right to abortion.

“This is a patient safety decision,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver.”

In announcing the decision to provide abortions, the VA said “access to medically necessary abortions is essential for preserving the life and health of Veterans and VA beneficiaries.”

That’s great, and I’m very glad to see it, but I think we all know that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton aren’t going to just accept this as a given and keep quiet about it. There’s no comment from any Texas official in this story, so for right now we don’t know exactly how they will respond. But come on, we really do know that they will challenge it in court, and they will surely make threats about arresting VA doctors who perform abortions anyway. This was the right thing to do but the matter is far from settled. We will have to see how it plays out. Mother Jones has more.

A different poll about abortion in Texas

Interesting and encouraging, but I’m not sure I buy it.

One year after Texas implemented what was then the most restrictive abortion law in the country, a majority of Texas voters are expressing strong support for abortion rights.

In a new survey, six in 10 voters said they support abortion being “available in all or most cases,” and many say abortion will be a motivating issue at the ballot box in November. Meanwhile, 11% say they favor a total ban on abortion.

“We’ve known that politicians in Texas and across the country have been enacting harmful abortion bans. We’ve known that they’ve been out of step with what Texans want, and now we have the data to prove that,” said Carisa Lopez, senior political director for the Texas Freedom Network, one of several reproductive rights groups that commissioned the poll.

[…]

Polling firm PerryUndem surveyed 2,000 Texas voters in late June, just before the Dobbs decision was issued. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The data release comes one year after the implementation of S.B. 8, which relies on civil lawsuits to enforce a prohibition on most abortions after about six weeks.

Pollster Tresa Undem said she believes the issue is likely to motivate turnout among supporters of abortion rights in states including Texas in November.

“I think that’s probably why in Texas we’re seeing a shift in the Texas electorate becoming more pro-choice — because there’s been that year of S.B. 8, and people experiencing that,” Undem said.

Because of S.B. 8, Texas had provided an early example of the impact of restrictive abortions laws, months before the U.S. Supreme Court released its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade and other abortion-rights precedent.

In response to that ruling in late June, the state’s trigger ban — also passed in 2021 in anticipation of Supreme Court action — also took effect, making abortion completely illegal in Texas except to save a patient’s life during a medical emergency. Doctors say that exception is narrow and subject to interpretation, and some say they fear terminating pregnancies for patients facing medical crises.

Undem says she’s seeing growing support for abortion rights among several key voting blocs including women, Latinos, and younger voters.

The poll memo, which includes some data, is here. I have two issues with it. One is that we don’t get the exact wording of each question, which is significant because as we know the wording can make a big difference in the responses. Two, these results are a lot more pro-abortion rights than we have seen in other polls. The post I did on the UT/Texas Politics Project data, which also was from June, illustrates this. In that poll, they broke down the situations into much more specific subgroups, with certain circumstances under which the person got an abortion, and the number of weeks they were pregnant. In cases of rape or incest or a threat to the mother’s health, support was in line with this poll – in particular, the “never available” number was down in the 10-15% range, as it is for the “never available” number in the PerryUndem poll. But for discretionary abortions, the level of support in the UT/TPP poll was much lower, and the “never available” number was up in the 30s. That’s a huge difference, and it’s in two polls taken at about the same time.

The most likely reason for those differences is the way the questions were asked. From what I can see, the PerryUndem poll didn’t get into any specific situations, which likely meant people were more lenient in what they would acquiesce to. You could argue that some of the specifics of the UT/TPP poll skewed responses in the other direction – I strongly suspect that most people in that poll didn’t know that Roe generally allowed abortions through 24 weeks, and that the law in the Dobbs case, which restricted abortion access to 15 weeks, was still looser than the 12 week choice that the poll gave. Texas’ law was allowing abortion up to 20 weeks before SB8 was passed, and that itself was technically illegal under Roe but went unchallenged in court on the very reasonable concern that SCOTUS (well before Amy Coney Barrett was there) would have upheld it and maybe done more than that. Point being, I think general ignorance of the law and of pregnancy probably contributed to some of the more restrictive answers.

The thesis of this poll was that attitudes in abortion had already begun to shift in Texas even before the Dobbs decision was handed down, because of the effect of SB8. I buy that to a point, but because this poll had no “before” data to compare with, that’s just a guess. If you want to extrapolate from there and decide that attitudes have loosed further since June, you can do that, but I’d want to see an updated version of this poll – or the UT/TPP poll, as one example – before I reached that conclusion.

One more thing about this poll, which neither NPR nor the Texas Signal noted, is that it also included an Abbott/Beto question. This poll, taken in June before the Dobbs decision and the surge in generic Democratic numbers since then, had Abbott leading Beto 47-43, the closest gap we’ve seen in any public poll so far. The crosstabs are a bit wonky – how you get to this result when Beto leads among Latinos 49-39 and leads among Black voters 70-14 is a mystery to me – but there it is. We’ve only seen one post-Dobbs poll so far, and it didn’t show any real movement. But as we always say, it’s one poll. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more soon.

Investigating abortions is Houston’s “lowest priority”

So says Mayor Turner, and I’m glad to hear it.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday that investigating abortions under the state’s near-total ban is the city’s “lowest priority” when it comes to crime.

Turner said the city would continue to marshal its limited law enforcement resources toward driving down violent crime. While the city cannot ignore the law, Turner said, he wanted to assure medical professionals and pregnant Houstonians that police here will not seek to interfere in sensitive health care decisions.

“I want women to get the best health care that we can offer in this city, and I don’t want doctors or health care providers or practitioners to second-guess themselves in providing the best health care,” Turner said at a City Hall news conference. “We cannot undo the law, it is on the books. It is what it is. We cannot supersede it, but we certainly can prioritize how our resources will be used in this city.”

[…]

Matt Slinkard, the city’s executive assistant police chief, acknowledged the city is duty-bound to enforce the law, but said Houston Police Department officers would remain “laser-focused” on violent crime. Police officials told City Council this week that violent crime is down 10 percent year-over-year, though it remains above pre-pandemic levels.

Slinkard said he was not aware of any complaints filed with the department since the law took effect last week. The mayor also sent a letter to District Attorney Kim Ogg outlining those priorities.

Turner spoke at City Hall along with members of the city’s women’s commission and council members, a majority of whom are women.

Like I said, good to hear. As you know, multiple other Texas cities have taken similar action, via the passage of an ordinance called the GRACE Act. Those have spelled out the things that the city and its law enforcement agency intend to de-emphasize to the extent that they can. One thing those cities have in common is that they all operate under the weak mayor/city manager form of government. I feel pretty confident that’s why they passed these ordinances via their city councils – their mayors don’t have the executive authority to set those policies on their own. It’s possible there could still be a Council vote of some kind on this, but for the most part I’d expect this to cover it. I really hope it’s all an academic exercise, that in a few months we’ll have a Congress and a Senate that can pass a national abortion rights law. Until then, every bit of local action is appreciated.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

More on the targeting of medical abortion

The end goal has always been a complete national ban on abortion. The “return it to the states” nonsense is a dodge to make you think it won’t be that bad and the people claiming it’s about a national ban are just fearmongering. The actions and words of the forced-birth fanatics make it clear what is really happening.

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrict the predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — via drugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14 states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with new legislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs.

Their strategy reflects the reality that abortion access today looks vastly different from that of the pre-Roe world, one without easy access to abortion medications from out-of-state or overseas pharmacies.

[…]

Students for Life is taking a different tack in efforts to limit or outlaw medication abortion — crafting and backing bills that restrict access to the drugs themselves.

Among the seven bills the group has successfully lobbied to pass, each requires women to see a physician in person to receive the medications rather than receiving them through the mail. The mandates vary from state-to-state, but most require a physical examination, a test to determine the blood type of the baby, an ultrasound to determine the stage of the pregnancy, a disclosure of safety risks and a follow-up examination after the procedure. In many of the states, the medications could only be used in a limited set of circumstances, like in Oklahoma where its use is restricted to ending early pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest — or if the woman’s life is in danger.

Telehealth appointments for the procedure are also prohibited under the bills.

In some cases, doctors are required to tell their patients that they can potentially reverse the effects of mifepristone and stop the abortion process — something that the American Medication Association has said is “a claim wholly unsupported by the best, most reliable scientific evidence.”

“So many states in the abortion arena have been playing with misinformation like this, relying on the antiabortion movement instead of medical professionals and what the science shows,” said Wendy E. Parmet, co-director of Northeastern University’s Center for Health Policy & Law. “Some states have required physicians say it causes breast cancer — which is also false.”

The ultimate goal of Students for Life is to block access to drugs entirely. The group is seeking criminal sanctions for the physicians and organizations that “manufacture, distribute, prescribe, dispense, sell or transfer” the drugs in the state.

If passed, the laws would be most effective in blocking prescriptions made by doctors in states where abortion is still legal — typically through telehealth appointments — to patients who reside in states where medication abortions are banned in all circumstances.

Experts say it is unlikely that law enforcement would be allowed to enter a state to arrest a doctor where they have no jurisdiction. However, state medical boards could penalize doctors — including revocation of their medical licenses — if they determined they are not licensed to practice medicine with someone who resides outside their state.

“It’s not as bad as going to prison, but it’s certainly something that no doctors want to have to do — be in a position where they are having to defend their license,” said Hearn, McCormack’s attorney, who is also a physician.

I’ve blogged about this in various forms before, and it’s important to keep in mind that this is where the forced birth fanatics want to go, and will go if they’re not stopped. Enforcing these kinds of laws will be extremely intrusive, wherever the exist. I have meant that in the past to mean that law enforcement will need to get all kinds of access to your mail, your phone logs, your browsing history, and so on, but there’s another way in which having such laws on the books will curtail everyone’s privacy. You will have to be extremely careful about what you say to whom, and you won’t be able to trust anyone you don’t know. That includes medical professionals and anyone who works for or with them.

If you are looking to end your own pregnancy, your own doctor may be your downfall.

Between 2000 and 2020, law enforcement in 26 states investigated or arrested at least 61 people for allegedly aborting their own pregnancy or helping someone else do so, according to a report released earlier this week by the legal advocacy group group If/When/How. And in 45 percent of those cases, it was healthcare providers or social workers who tipped off police.

In another 26 percent of the cases, people “entrusted with information”—like partners, parents, and friends—reported their ostensible loved one to police.

“The research really clearly confirms that the biggest threat to the privacy of abortion seekers is other people,” said Laura Huss, senior researcher for If/When/How. “That breakdown of trust and ethics and the patient-doctor relationship is really alarming.”

The report, which examined the criminalization of self-managed abortions while Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land, offers a stunning glimpse at how people who get abortions in this post-Roe era may be targeted and threatened by law enforcement. Although abortion opponents often insist that they do not want to punish pregnant people for abortions, abortion rights supporters have long pointed out that pregnant people have already faced criminal consequences—and there’s no way to ensure they’ll be kept out of an anti-abortion dragnet.

Gotta say, as a child of the 70s and 80s, all this gives me serious Soviet Union vibes. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans and conservatives thought that was a bad thing.

A different EMTALA ruling in Idaho

As expected. You know where this goes from here.

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Idaho from enforcing a ban on abortions when pregnant women require emergency care, a day after a judge in Texas ruled against President Joe Biden’s administration on the same issue.

The conflicting rulings came in two of the first lawsuits over Biden’s attempts to keep abortion legal after the conservative majority U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure nationwide.

Legal experts said the dueling rulings in Idaho and Texas could, if upheld on appeal, force the Supreme Court to wade back into the debate.

[…]

In Idaho, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that the abortion ban taking effect Thursday conflicts with a federal law that ensures patients can receive emergency “stabilizing care.”

Winmill, who was appointed to the court by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, issued a preliminary injunction blocking Idaho from enforcing its ban to the extent it conflicts with federal law, citing the threat to patients.

“One cannot imagine the anxiety and fear (a pregnant woman) will experience if her doctors feel hobbled by an Idaho law that does not allow them to provide the medical care necessary to preserve her health and life,” Winmill wrote.

The Justice Department has said the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires abortion care in emergency situations.

“Today’s decision by the District Court for the District of Idaho ensures that women in the State of Idaho can obtain the emergency medical treatment to which they are entitled under federal law,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a written statement.

“The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool at its disposal to defend the reproductive rights protected by federal law,” Garland said. The DOJ has said that it disagrees with the Texas ruling and is considering next legal steps.

See here for the background. TPM goes deeper into the two rulings and also provides copies of them, but the bottom line is that the Texas judge said that the federal guidance went too far, didn’t go through the formal rule-change process (even though it was guidance on an existing rule and not a change), didn’t take the rights of the fetus into account, and could only apply when the mother’s life was in danger, not just when her health was threatened. The Idaho judge didn’t do any of that.

Both rulings will be appealed, and as Idaho is in the more liberal Ninth Circuit, there’s a very good chance that this ruling will be upheld. The same is true for Texas, where the radical and lawless Fifth Circuit will get its paws on it. While it is usually the case that a split in the appellate courts means that SCOTUS will weigh in, it seems possible to me that they will duck the issue, perhaps on the grounds that this is really a dispute over state laws, and since the Texas case applies only to Texas, there’s no need for them to step in. I’m just guessing, I could easily be wrong. We’ll know soon enough. DAily Kos has more.

Paxton’s State Bar disciplinary hearing

We are slowly moving towards finally having some kind of result in this saga.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued Wednesday that a Kaufman County judge should toss a lawsuit alleging he acted unethically in a legal challenge that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The first public hearing in the case inside a near-empty Kaufman County courtroom was not to determine the merit of the lawsuit lodged by a disciplinary commission of the state bar, but whether the group can seek sanctions against Texas’ top lawyer.

Paxton’s lawyers said the case, which could threaten his law license, is an unconstitutional attempt to control his office’s work and could have a chilling effect on future attorneys general. But an attorney for the commission countered that all lawyers should be subject to the same rules of professional conduct, no matter their position.

Judge Casey Blair, a Republican, did not issue a decision from the bench Wednesday. The outcome could establish the limits of the commission’s power to sanction lawyers who serve in high-ranking elected positions.

Any ruling will likely be appealed, meaning it could be months before the bar’s complaint over Paxton’s 2020 election lawsuit is heard in court, if ever.

[…]

In the hearing Wednesday, Christopher Hilton, a state attorney representing Paxton, argued that if the court allows the lawsuit to go forward, then “every future attorney general will have to fear for their law license rather than represent the state of Texas to the best of their ability and the way their voters expect that they would do.

“They would be hamstrung on unelected bureaucrats,” he said.

Royce LeMoine, a lawyer for the commission, said Paxton is being sued for his actions as a lawyer, not as the state’s attorney general, and that this is not a “select prosecution.”

“The commission’s disciplinary rules do not violate the respondent’s ability to advocate for his clients and the state of Texas,” LeMoine told the judge.

See here, here, and here for the previous updates. The Chron had a preview story on Tuesday.

“I hope it proceeds,” said Jim Harrington, one of the Texas lawyers who filed the State Bar complaint. “I hope [the judge] bites the bullet and denies the plea because it’s the right thing to do.”

[…]

In seeking to dismiss the disciplinary case, Paxton’s lawyers argue that it would violate the separation of powers doctrine for the Texas courts to “police” what they say was an executive branch decision. They also claim Paxton is protected by sovereign immunity, the legal principle that generally shields public officials from lawsuits.

In a separate motion, the attorney general’s office is asking the judge to allow the agency to intervene in the case on Paxton’s behalf.

The 2020 suit was not “dishonest, fraudulent, or deceitful,” they write in filings, and the State Bar’s issues with it essentially amount to a “political disagreement.”

“If Texans disapprove of the how the Attorney General exercises his authority, the remedy is to vote him out of office,” Paxton’s attorneys write. “The bar has no veto over how the Attorney General exercises his constitutional authority.”

Paxton was not the first attorney general to be asked to spearhead the case, and lawyers in his own office, including then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, had argued against it, according to the New York Times. Hawkins, who would normally represent the state in such litigation, had no involvement in the case when it was filed and resigned within a month.

Top lawyers at the Florida attorney general’s office ridiculed the suit as “bats—t insane,” emails revealed.

Recent polls have shown the attorney general’s race is highly competitive between Paxton and his Democratic opponent Rochelle Garza, a former ACLU attorney. Garza, who has portrayed herself as the candidate who will bring integrity to the attorney general’s office, isn’t buying Paxton’s legal argument in this case.

“Political disagreements have to do with policies, not facts,” Garza said in a statement. “Even first-year law students know that legal accusations of wrongdoing require evidence, yet two years later, Paxton continues peddling his baseless lies about the 2020 election. Texans deserve an attorney general who believes in the rule of law and ethically uses the power of the office to serve Texans, not for their own political ends.”

Any decision in the case could foreshadow the result of a suit filed against Paxton’s First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster by the Texas Bar for his involvement in the 2020 Supreme Court petition. Webster is also seeking to dismiss his case, and a hearing will be held Sept. 6 in Williamson County.

Paxton and Webster are being represented by lawyers from the attorney general’s office, as well as outside counsel. The office has not responded to questions about why they need both. The cost to taxpayers so far is over $46,000, and that’s before today’s initial proceedings.

The attorney general’s office has said the four in-house attorneys working on the case are not keeping track of their billable hours. The office did not explain why no timekeeping was done, despite its policy of doing so for other types of cases.

“To me, it’s really outrageous they’re using taxpayer money,” Harrington said. “This has nothing to do with his role as attorney general, absolutely nothing. It’s only his role as an attorney. Even if the State Bar disbars him, it has no effect on him being attorney general.”

You will not be surprised to know that I am on the State Bar’s side in this dispute. Paxton’s argument has merit to the point that elected officials should not be held accountable for political decisions by non-political offices like the State Bar. Where that falls apart is that he was also acting as a lawyer, and in doing so was violating the ethical and professional rules that lawyers are supposed to abide by. The evidence for that is overwhelming, from the sheer brazen falsity of the the claims he was making to the way similar lawsuits had been routinely batted aside by a myriad of courts to the fact that his own Solicitor General, whose job it is to make these arguments in court, refused to participate. If he can’t be held accountable for that then he has a blank check to do anything. That cannot be the right answer.

Anyway. If Paxton is found guilty, he will be subject to discipline from the State Bar, which could be anything from a scolding to being disbarred. While the latter seems unlikely to me – from what I have observed, it’s usually lawyers that do things like misappropriate clients’ money that get the boot – I don’t think it would be inappropriate given the seriousness of the issue. If that did happen, Paxton would still be able to hold the office of Attorney General. We’re not getting rid of him that easily. I don’t know what to expect and I don’t know how long it might take. With Paxton, we’re used to waiting on these things. Reform Austin has more.

Restraining order granted in Paxton’s EMTALA lawsuit

Ugh.

Texas hospitals will not be required to provide emergency abortions after a federal judge ruled the Biden administration was unauthorized to enforce such a rule.

U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix in Lubbock ruled that the guidance by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services went beyond the text of a related federal law, Reuters reported. The judge’s ruling agreed with Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Hendrix, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, only barred federal regulators from enforcing the guidance and its interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act in Texas, and against two anti-abortion groups of doctors. The judge declined to enjoin the guidance nationwide.

[…]

The Biden administration’s guidance was an attempted response to concerns about the health of pregnant patients being turned away or delayed care by hospitals worried about abortion bans. The Texas Medical Association wrote a letter asking state regulators to “prevent any wrongful intrusion into the practice of medicine.”

See here for the background. At least this time it’s just limited to the state and not nationwide, though of course it’s our effed-up state that needed this to be decided differently. As TPM notes, there’s a similar case in Idaho that may have a ruling by the time you read this, so we’re going to be fighting this out in the appeals courts and then very likely SCOTUS. Joy.

I often say that I Am Not A Lawyer in posts about legal things. I say that in part to make it clear that my analysis is that of a layperson, and one should be wary of accepting my acumen of the finer points of legal theory. But that also frees me to an extent of the concern about the technicalities and lets me just focus on the things that should matter, whether they actually will in a real courtroom or not. As a prime example of this, let’s look at a bit of the judge’s ruling. I’m quoting from that TPM story now:

“That Guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict,” Hendrix writes.

Siding with the two groups of anti-abortion physicians as well as the state of Texas, Hendrix writes that the HHS guidance requiring physicians to act when the woman’s health is at risk is too generous.

“The Guidance states that EMTALA may require an abortion when the health of the pregnant woman is in serious jeopardy,” he says. “Texas law, on the other hand, limits abortions to when the medical condition is life-threatening, and HLPA goes further to expressly limit the condition to a physical condition,” he adds, referring to Texas’ trigger law that outlaws abortions in most cases.

He argues that the guidance also does away with consideration for the embryo or fetus. The government contends that, when the wellbeing of the woman and embryo or fetus are in conflict, it should be the pregnant patient who decides whether or not to go forth with an abortion. Hendrix says that the decision should be taken out of the woman’s hands and put into the doctor’s — who has to then comply with state law.

He also dips into agency power arguments to hack back the guidance, claiming that Congress has not resolved the specific question at play.

“Specifically, the question at issue here is whether Congress has directly addressed whether physicians must perform abortions when they believe that it would resolve a pregnant woman’s emergency medical condition, irrespective of the unborn child’s health and state law,” he writes. “Congress has not.”

In other words, unless you the doctor who may get prosecuted for murder are sure the pregnant person is going to die, you have to let them suffer. I don’t care about the legal technicalities, I’m here to say that if you’re capable of committing these words to a document, you’re a goddamned sociopath and you have no business having power of any kind. That of course also applies to Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott and every single member of the Legislature who voted for these barbaric laws. It’s what this election is about. And I should note that Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who is an actual lawyer, sees this the same way I do. So there. Daily Kos and CNN have more.

There’s still a lot of confusion about how Texas’ abortion ban will be enforced

There will be chaos, in addition to the fear and danger to pregnant people that already exists.

Abortions are already effectively outlawed in Texas, where clinics closed after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. But a new law takes effect Thursday that makes performing the procedure a felony, punishable by up to life in prison and fines of at least $100,000. There are no exemptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly — only for when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

It’s not clear how many prosecutions will materialize or even how police will handle complaints. But the first cases will test the bounds of a sweeping new law that is prompting fear and confusion for patients, their families and the medical community alike. Experts say the few abortions that do occur in Texas are now carried out in hospitals during emergencies, or at home with medication obtained online or through other means. Pregnant women cannot be prosecuted.

“Are they going to be going after doctors who perform emergency abortions? What does that look like?” said Joanna Grossman, a professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

So far, Attorney General Ken Paxton has been the most bullish about enforcement. His office can only enforce the six-figure civil fines, but he offered to help local prosecutors bring criminal charges under the state’s abortion ban.

“I will do everything in my power to protect mothers, families, and unborn children, and to uphold the state laws duly enacted by the Texas Legislature,” Paxton, aRepublican up for a third term in November, said in an advisory.

[…]

In Tarrant and Denton County, officials said prosecutors will evaluate each case and present it to a grand jury only if the facts warrant prosecution. Neither office specified what circumstances might qualify.

“Prosecutors do not make the law – we follow it,” Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a written statement. “We followed Roe v. Wade when it was the law and we will follow Texas state law now.”

“Police agencies bring us cases, we don’t go out and investigate cases ourselves,” said Denton County First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck. “If an agency brings us a case that deals with this issue and these laws, we will treat it like any other case.”

Yet, how the police will handle complaints remains a question mark.

Some city councils, including in Dallas and Denton, voted to restrict the resources that can be used to investigate abortions or request that police deprioritize those cases. Several police groups said they don’t know how enforcement will work, and one questioned whether law enforcement would want to be involved at all.

“They are extremely difficult investigations and there’s all kinds of politics surrounding it,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. “It’s a lot easier to say something is illegal than to actually prosecute someone for it.”

In Dallas, Police Chief Eddie García said that depending on priority and call type, there will be instances “that we may have to respond and take a report.” But he echoed the uncertainty, saying it’s “too soon to tell how the state plans to enforce this new law, and who will be enforcing it.”

While almost every felony complaint is looked into, final decisions about how to proceed rest with district attorneys, said James McLaughlin Jr., executive director and general counsel for the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “What proof would they want to see in order to accept a case?” he said. “We’re pretty used to filing burglary cases, robbery cases, homicide cases, but this is different.”

We’ve talked about this in various forms. Dallas County’s DA, along with several other large county DAs (not, as far as I know, including Harris County, at least at this time), has said he won’t pursue prosecutions of abortion-related charges. Which is nice and noble and morally correct and certain to be turned into roadkill by the next Legislature if they have the power to do so. It’s interesting to see what these cops are saying about investigating abortion-related allegations – as we have discussed, they can seek out evidence in various privacy-intruding ways, but we just don’t know yet what they actually will do. Again, the Lege is sure to meddle in this if they can. We also have the TDCAA’s analysis and guidance on Texas’ new laws that criminalize abortion, which among other things show that the zeal to continuously be passing anti-abortion laws has introduced quite a bit of chaos and more than a little potential for contradictions and double jeopardy possibilities. The courts are going to have so much fun with all this. That touched on the vigilant bounty hunter law SB8, which so far as served only as a tool of intimidation rather than of enforcement. But with the “trigger” law going into effect today, it’s a whole new ball game. And just a matter of time before someone gets arrested.

UPDATE: The Trib now has a story on the enabling of the trigger law. The 19th notes that four other states have similar laws coming online this week.

Abortion funds file First Amendment lawsuit for their right to assist others access abortion

We’ll see what SCOTUS does with this one, because for sure that’s where this will end up.

Reproductive rights groups on Tuesday filed a federal class-action lawsuit to head off possible prosecution from Texas officials for helping Texans gain access to legal abortions in other states.

The suit filed in Austin names Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as well as a class composed of the county and district attorneys who could enforce the state’s near-total abortion ban, which goes into effect on Thursday.

The law, known as House Bill 1280, was passed last year. It is “triggered” into taking effect on Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June on Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protection for abortion access.

The plaintiffs want a federal judge to issue an injunction barring Paxton and prosecutors from using that law and other statutes to target those reproductive rights groups for activities the groups say conservative state leaders may politically oppose but are still legal.

The groups want the court to confirm that “the Trigger Ban cannot be enforced by any Defendant … in a manner that violates Plaintiffs’ rights to freely travel, freely associate, freely speak, and freely support members of their communities through financial assistance, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and federal law,” according to the suit.

The named plaintiffs are Fund Texas Choice, the North Texas Equal Access Fund, the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, Frontera Fund, The Afiya Center, West Fund, Jane’s Due Process, Clinic Access Support Network and Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an outspoken Texas provider.

They’re asking for legal protection to continue fundraising and paying for out-of-state abortion expenses, including raising funds for travel or other costs or for the procedure itself, as well as helping pregnant Texans with logistical information about legal abortions out of state, according to the lawsuit.

[…]

The suit argues that Paxton, along with “activist legislators and their associates,” are waging a coordinated effort to harass organizations exercising their right to free speech by defending access to abortions and helping pregnant Texans seek them legally under the current bans. Most of the latter involves financial or logistical help in obtaining an abortion in another state where the procedure is still legal.

The court filing points to, as an example, several statements in late June by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, asserting that donors, volunteers, employees and anyone else connected to these groups are guilty of violating the law for helping people legally outmaneuver the Texas ban. He also has suggested that the constitutionally protected right to travel interstate for any reason doesn’t translate to the right to pay for someone else to do it, such as for an abortion.

To set the table a bit here, in their amicus brief to a writ of mandamus that blocked a lower court order that would have enjoined the 1925 state law criminalizing abortion, 70 Republican legislators argued that criminal penalties should apply to people who help others get an abortion. I’m sure we can comprehend how far they believe that definition of “help” should be pushed; we need only note what spurts out of Briscoe Cain’s mouth if we’re ever uncertain. There is also a separate federal lawsuit filed by Wendy Davis making similar claims about her right to donate to abortion funds. I don’t know if there has been any action on that front. Two abortion access funds had previously filed lawsuits against anti-abortion activists to protect themselves from SB8-related litigation. There’s a lot going on.

If you for some reason believe what the justices in the majority of the Dobbs opinion said at the time, the right to travel for an abortion should still be upheld on constitutional grounds. As you can tell, I don’t have much faith in anything those charlatans say, but they did say it. Litigation like this will be the first test of that proposition, and whether SCOTUS allows an injunction against the trigger law to stand will give us an early indication. Place your bets now.

I don’t know why anyone thinks that IVF will be safe in Texas

That’s what people are saying now.

Abortion bans across the country have thrown into question the fate of in vitro fertilization, an expensive medical process that helps people become pregnant.

But experts and anti-abortion groups say Texas’ laws shouldn’t apply to IVF treatment, and clinics across the state are proceeding with the procedures for now.

Similar to other “trigger laws” enacted to ban abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, a Texas law passed last year broadens the definition of an “unborn child” to begin at “fertilization” and include “embryonic” stages.

That type of language can raise questions about the “personhood” and rights of embryos in IVF and other fertility treatments, said Dr. Natalie Crawford, who is co-founder of Fora Fertility in Austin.

In IVF, Crawford said, doctors use hormone injections to save more of a woman’s eggs during a menstrual cycle and take them out to fertilize them with sperm in a lab. The eggs are then allowed to grow into a blastocyst, or an implantation-stage embryo.

Crawford said this allows doctors to select the embryo they believe has the “highest chance of success” for a pregnancy to put back inside the woman’s uterus and save the other embryos so patients can try again or grow their family in the future. Doctors can also use these embryos to test for genetic diseases.

Once a person or couple no longer need the embryos, they decide whether to discard them as medical waste, donate them for scientific research or to donate them to another couple, she said. It’s this step in particular that is posing a question for IVF treatments in the face of abortion bans.

“The thing that we’re the most uncertain about is, ‘could it impact discarding embryos, like when somebody is done with their family and they have remaining embryos?’” Crawford said. “Or if they have genetically abnormal embryos, could it potentially make it harder to discard those?”

Some also worry about doctors’ ability to conduct genetic testing.

Right now, Crawford and other fertility doctors in Texas and other states are continuing IVF treatments because most laws against abortions focus on embryos during pregnancies, not outside of the womb.

“While they contain phrases like ‘every stage of human development,’ or ‘from the moment of conception,’ which makes us nervous, they are written in a statute that is clearly about terminating an established pregnancy,” said Sean Tipton, chief policy and advocacy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine broke down “trigger laws” across the country, based on its lawyers’ analysis, and says Texas’ trigger law “does not appear to be applicable to IVF and reproductive medicine services prior to implantation of embryos.”

[…]

In Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma, attorney generals’ offices have clarified anti-abortion laws should not have implications for IVF, but Idaho’s attorney general said it would be up to local prosecutors to decide how to enforce the state’s trigger law, according to NBC News. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

[…]

[John] Seago said Texas Right to Life has concerns about the “destruction” of “excessive” embryos, particularly in medical research, but the issue is not one of its priorities for Texas’ 2023 legislative session. Instead, its priorities include enforcing existing laws against abortion and providing more support for pregnant women.

Amy O’Donnell, a spokesperson for the Texas Alliance for Life, said the group had not finalized its legislative priorities yet, but said the group supported a law passed in 2017 requiring the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to post information on its website about embryo donations to other people to promote the option.

A bill filed in 2019 aimed to ban state agencies from contracting with vendors affiliated with “destructive embryonic stem cell research,” human cloning and abortions, but the legislation didn’t gain traction.

Do you trust Ken Paxton, the guy who’s now suing to force doctors to let women die rather than perform an abortion that would save them, to take a reasoned and nuanced view of this? Do you trust the forced-birth advocates, who worry about the “destruction” of “excessive” embryos, to sit this one out? They could force you to pay for storage of your unused embryos for literally all of eternity, or to give them to strangers, if they get their minds to it and still have the legislative majorities. Do you trust the same legislature that passed SB8 to refuse to do their bidding if it comes to that?

If I were in this position, this is what I would do.

[Dr. Robert] Hunter runs a fertility clinic offering in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Louisville, Kentucky, where a blocked abortion law could soon put IVF in jeopardy, too. Now, many patients are scrambling to make decisions about their future. Kentucky is one of a handful of states that wants to use an abortion regulation to define life as beginning at fertilization, common language that is present in several other abortion bans that have gone into effect or will soon, including in UtahTexas and Louisiana.

The Kentucky law is currently blocked by courts, but that could change soon and, in November, voters will determine whether the state can even guarantee the right to an abortion.

Other states want to move further, giving embryos constitutional rights through what are called “personhood” bills, even though, scientifically, most will never become babies. Roe was the largest roadblock stopping these kinds of bills from becoming reality, but without it, patients in states including GeorgiaIowaOhioOklahomaSouth Carolina and Nebraska, where personhood laws have been proposed but have not yet passed, could face the same questions as Hunter’s patients in Kentucky.

Both kinds of laws could affect embryos created through IVF, causing spillover effects into other areas of reproductive care. Hunter’s patients likely now have a small window before those laws become more concrete realities in Kentucky, putting into question what they can do with their own embryos. Moving embryos to another state could buy patients some time. It may also afford them something even more valuable: a choice.

“IVF is just another side of the reproductive choice coin,” Hunter said. “You think about abortion as being a woman’s right to choose ‘no.’ IVF is their right to choose ‘yes.’”

And if it comes to it, this same legislature that will if unchecked start passing bills to criminalize everyone even tangentially involved with abortion will make it a crime to transport embryos across state lines. It’s just a matter of time. Get them to another state now while you still can. The Chron has more.

Adoption is not a replacement for abortion

Anyone who tells you otherwise is at the very least misinformed. More likely, they’re just lying.

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the loss of abortion access in many states, some conservative leaders have suggested abortion is unnecessary because of the option of adoption. They argue people do not need to terminate unwanted pregnancies because they can seek adoption placements after giving birth.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to revoke the constitutional right to an abortion, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, tweeted, “Less abortion, more adoption. Why is that controversial?” In late June, Mike Pompeo, former U.S. secretary of state, tweeted, “Adoption, not abortion. With Roe overturned, we should find ways to make the adoption process in our country easier and safer.”

However, experts on adoption and abortion say offering adoption as a replacement for abortion access misrepresents the reality of the process. Lawmakers must work to provide financial and mental health support for the adoption triad — birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees — before advocating for increased adoptions, they added.

But the most important point that often goes overlooked is that adoption and abortion are unrelated issues, said Malinda Seymore, a law professor at Texas A&M University School of Law who researches and teaches adoption law.

“Women are making decisions about pregnancy when they are considering abortion, and it’s only after they have made a decision to continue the pregnancy that they are making a parenting decision about whether to parent or place for adoption,” she said.

Adoption may relieve birth parents of parenting responsibilities, but it does not resolve the pregnancy, she added.

“Adoption doesn’t do what abortion does,” Seymore said. “It does not end a pregnancy, it does not relieve the burden of pregnancy, it does not avoid the health risks of pregnancy, it does not alleviate the psycho-social harm of relinquishing for adoption. It is not at all a substitute for abortion.”

Gretchen Sisson, ​​a research sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said people who are seeking abortions are rarely interested in the option of adoption. Proposing adoption as an alternative to abortion does not meaningfully address the reasons why people seek abortions in the first place: Many abort because they don’t want to be pregnant anymore, not just because they want to avoid parenting, Sisson said.

Pregnant people can experience a range of health conditions that can create complications, but even without the health risks, a pregnancy can make it difficult to keep a job or provide for already existing children in the family. Being forced to carry a pregnancy to term, even with the option of adoption, does not address those issues.

Kenna Hamm, assistant director of the Texas Adoption Center, said adoption agencies such as hers are ready to handle a potential influx of expectant parents seeking adoption placements now that abortions are mostly banned in the state. But she said most people who are unable to end their unintended pregnancies will choose to parent the child once they are born, as adoption is a difficult decision.

Seymore pointed to The Turnaway Study, a long-term study at the University of California, San Francisco, that examined the effects of unwanted pregnancies on women’s lives. The team followed about 1,000 women who sought abortions, and about 15% of those women were denied access to the procedure because of gestational limits. Only 9% of those women who were denied an abortion chose to seek an adoption placement; the rest decided to parent.

The outcomes for those families are not as strong as families who decided from the beginning to keep their pregnancies and raise their children, said Sisson, who helped conduct The Turnaway Study. People who were not intending or wanting to have a child are much more likely to live in poverty and to have a hard time bonding with their children, the study found. They are also more likely to stay in abusive relationships, which also keeps their children in situations where they may experience abuse.

“If the only thing that you’re trying to do is just deny access to an abortion and then impose parenting on [people seeking abortions], then mission accomplished,” Sisson said. “But if you’re actually wanting to support families and ensure that children are in loving homes that are capable of caring for them, we need to have a social safety net that is far, far more robust in these states that are limiting abortion access.”

[…]

When people tout adoption as a replacement for abortion access, they often don’t understand the emotional challenges that birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees experience during an adoption, [Rory Hall, executive director of Adoption Advocates, Inc] said. The adoptive parents gain a child, but their joy comes from the birth parents’ pain, she said. As the adoptee grows up, they also may experience a sense of loss and identity crisis from not being raised by or knowing who their birth parents are.

“I just would like for [adoption] to not be talked about as an easy option,” Hall said.

Tell that to Dan Crenshaw. Remember also that a significant number of abortions are the result of wanted pregnancies that ended in miscarriage or a threat to the life or health of the mother. The alternative to legal abortion is more unsafe abortions and more maternal mortality and morbidity. If that’s what you want then congratulations, you’re getting it.

If your advocacy includes convincing children to carry their rapist’s baby to term, your advocacy is bad

Towards the end of this overall infuriating story about “crisis pregnancy centers” in Texas, we come to a quote that stunned me so hard I had to step away from the computer for a few minutes.

If they can get an “abortion-minded” woman to have a conversation, Pinson feels confident that the center’s staff can change her mind. In their counseling sessions, Pinson says, they “pour into girls,” persuading them that, no matter the obstacles in their lives, they can become successful mothers.

Pinson welcomes even the most devastating cases.

“I’ve seen a lot of 13-year-olds do phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”

She closely followed the case of the 10-year-old rape victim who was denied an abortion in Ohio last month. If that girl came into her center, Pinson would suggest she consider adoption, she said, adding that abortion would not fix the girl’s problems.

“That life is still a life and, even at 10, she knows a life is inside her.”

The level of disregard for the lives of these children utterly took my breath away. Let’s be clear that every one of these children has been raped, most likely by someone close to them – family member, friend, teacher, coach, clergyman, neighbor. Let’s also be clear that the health risks of carrying a pregnancy to term for young girls is significantly higher than it is for adult women, partly because these girls are smaller and less developed than adult women. Because, you know, they’re children. Let’s be clear that the trauma and adverse mental health effects on these children is something all of us who have not had any personal experience with is far greater than we think. To sweep all of that aside because your “values” tell you that an embryo is of greater value than that child and its interests must be put above those of that child, I struggle to form the words in response. I just know that I would never want to let you near any child I have ever known.

This is a long and detailed story about a phenomenon that has plagued us for a long time and is now going to get worse, with more and greater adverse health effects brought to more women and girls. You should read it, though I warn you it will make you very angry. Use that anger, and make more people like you angry in the same way, because this is what we’re fighting.

More on polling about abortion

Not a new poll, but a closer look at the June UT/Texas Politics Project poll, with a longer look back at over a decade’s worth of polling data.

Under current Texas law, abortion is prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. But polling shows Texans overwhelmingly support exceptions for rape and incest — only 13% and 11%, respectively, said pregnant people should not be able to obtain abortions in those cases.

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, is not involved with the Texas Politics Project but has also conducted polling on abortion policy.

“More helpful polling questions are those that try to get to the nuance, rather than do you support or oppose this one option,” she said.

To that end, the latest Texas Politics Project poll asked registered voters to consider how far along in pregnancy a person should be allowed to obtain an abortion when accounting for different circumstances, including when the person’s health was endangered, the pregnancy was a result of rape or the family could not afford any more children. This is the first time pollsters asked these questions of respondents.

While most Texans support exceptions for rape and incest, some still want to see limitations based on how far along a person is in their pregnancy. Nearly a quarter of respondents want abortions in cases of rape or incest limited to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people do not know they are pregnant. Last September, 10 months before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Poll respondents supported more restrictions when asked about abortion in cases where the family is low income, or the pregnant person either doesn’t want to marry or is married and doesn’t want more children. Over 30% of voters said abortion should not be allowed in those cases.

These numbers are mostly consistent over time. The Texas Politics Project started polling registered voters about abortion availability in 2009. A historical look shows voters’ opinions on abortion have not changed much in over a decade.

One thing that has changed is people’s views on whether Texas’ existing laws about abortion should be made more strict, less strict, or left about the same. As Texas’ laws have gotten increasingly strict, the “abortion laws should be made less strict” group has grown from 26% in 2013 to 43% as of this June. The “more strict” group – one wonders what could possibly sate them, then one decides it probably isn’t worth asking that question – has gone from 38% to 23% in that same time span, while the “leave it as is” crowd has been basically static, from 20% to 23%.

It’s worth looking at the polling project’s post about their June numbers and scroll down to the section on abortion, where they asked questions about at what stage of a woman’s pregnancy would you support her being able to get an abortion under various circumstances. The choices for “when” are Never, up to 6 weeks, up to 12 weeks, up to 24 weeks, up to 36 weeks, and Any Time. The first four question are about circumstances where things are bad: The woman’s health in in danger, the woman was a victim of rape, the women was a victim of incest, and there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. In all of those cases, support for allowing an abortion is high, though a significant portion of that support is often for just the first six weeks, while the support for “Never” ranges from 8 to 19 percent. If you group the “through 12 weeks” responses with the increasingly liberal ones, all of those positions get a majority, ranging from 53 to 62 percent. “Never” and “up to 6 weeks” add up to at most 35% for those items.

That’s the good news. The less good news is that for questions about discretionary abortions – the woman’s family is poor and they can’t afford a child, the woman is unmarried and doesn’t want to get married, the woman is married and doesn’t want another child – the Never group is the biggest at 34 to 36 percent, with the Any Time group at half that level. There’s still more support for the “up to 12 weeks” and more liberal groups than Never (41 to 45%), but Never plus “up to 6 weeks” is a slight plurality in all three cases.

In other words, this all only goes so far. That may yet change over time – this is June data we’re talking about, we’re still figuring things out in this post-Dobbs world – but we’re a long way from the state being a basically pro-choice place. It’s more pro-choice than what the Legislature allows – much more so in some cases – but there are definite limits.

One more thing:

Jim Henson, director of the project, said that in the years the poll has been conducted, people haven’t had many reasons to shift their viewpoints on abortion.

“Abortion has been a present enough issue that I think most people who have an attitude on abortion have thought on it enough to be pretty fixed on their attitude,” he said.

[Joshua Blank, research director for the project notes that these attitudes were all developed under Roe v. Wade. Now that it’s overturned, people will be forced to ask themselves new questions about where exactly they stand on the issue of abortion.

“That was all under the framework of Roe v. Wade, which allowed people to develop attitudes,” he said. “The fact that there were clear guardrails around what was and was not allowable in terms of restrictions helped enforce the rigidity of peoples’ attitudes because there was a backstop either way about what the courts would presumably accept.”

[…]

The Hobby School of Public Affairs also recently polled registered Texas voters on abortion availability and policy. [Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School] said the polls focus on proposed laws after the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

“So rather than focusing primarily on ‘do you support abortion rights,’ we went a step further saying ‘this is the law of the land now, so now what do you support.’”

The Hobby School’s poll asked voters to assess potential policies such as whether abortion should be considered a homicide and whether it should be legal for Texans to take abortion-inducing pills obtained out of state. Around 60% of respondents oppose both classifying abortion as a homicide and making it a felony to take abortion-inducing pills from out of state. Around 30% support those classifications, while around 10% said they don’t know.

What that suggests to me is that for now, the best approach is probably to try to draw a line in the sand and say “no more restrictions”, talk a lot about how women are being endangered right now because they can’t get treated for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies because of our “no exceptions” law, and emphasize that what Republicans want is to punish people for abortion. That’s where the vast majority of the support is. We’re going to have to do a lot more work to move things beyond that, but for the purposes of the November election, vowing to protect the rights of women that have been taken away by SCOTUS and the Legislature is the best bet.

Dallas passes its ordinance to protect abortion access

Good job.

Dallas City councilmembers almost unanimously passed the “Grace Act,” an ordinance aimed at deprioritizing investigations into abortions by local police departments.

[…]

This new resolution prevents city resources from being used to create records for a person seeking an abortion, or to provide governmental bodies or agencies about pregnancy outcomes or to conduct surveillance to determine if an abortion occurred.

Investigations or prosecutions of abortion allegations will also be the lowest priority for law enforcement under the “Grace Act.”

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia was in attendance for the City Council meeting and was asked before the ordinance passed how the Dallas Police Department would enforce the resolution while complying with their sworn oath to enforce state law.

“We don’t know yet,” Garcia said plainly. “Myself and other chiefs in other cities don’t know exactly how this is going to look.”

Once DPD gets some direction from other cities or the state, Garcia said he would work with the city manager to figure out what standard operating procedures will be with the new resolution in mind.

“Having a policy that says you will not enforce a law on the books would be a violation of our police officer’s oath,” Garcia said. “Using discretion is different than saying you will not enforce a law in the State of Texas.”

See here for some background. As we know, Austin, Denton, and San Antonio have already taken similar action. We’re still waiting for Waco, and I have no idea if this is on the radar for Houston. Only Mayor Turner can put it on the Council agenda, and I have not seen any quotes from him about his thinking on the matter. I’ve no doubt such an ordinance would pass, but so far I don’t know if one will be introduced. If you have some insight on this, I’d love to hear it.

Acompañamiento

Great story about the abortion access community in Mexico, which arose while abortion was criminalized there and continues now that it is legal in much of the country, and how it is starting to help women in the US, especially in Texas.

Hi, I’m four weeks pregnant. Eight weeks. Six weeks.

The stream of pings and messages through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp reach Sandra Cardona Alanís at her home in this mountainous region of northern Mexico. She is an acompañante and a founder of Necesito Abortar México, a volunteer network that has helped thousands of people across Mexico access abortion, usually at home, by providing medication and support.

With the constitutional right to abortion in the United States eliminated and numerous states moving swiftly to cut off all access, more and more of the calls to Mexican organizations like Cardona Alanís’ are coming from places like Texas.

People seeking help are reaching not just over a border but across a cultural divide between two countries following distinct paths in providing reproductive health care. As abortion access is being restricted in the United States, it is expanding in Mexico.

Because abortion-inducing medication can be obtained in Mexico without a prescription, networks like the one Cardona Alanís helped found exist alongside the more traditional medical clinics that typify abortion in the United States.

The Necesito Abortar México network is one of several that operate outside the formal medical establishment, offering people the ability to manage their own abortions without visiting a clinic. They usually hear from two or three new people a day. The day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against abortion rights, they heard from 70, half of them calling from the United States.

Even before the full effects of Roe v. Wade’s reversal kick in, Texas is being stitched into the Mexican system as the networks build out their models of helping provide safe abortion at home on an international scale. For months, they’ve been helping train volunteers that will prop up new U.S.-based networks. And they have moved thousands of doses of abortion medication into the United States, creating informal stockpiles to more easily distribute the drugs.

Exporting their model likely will not come easily, though, as the legal landscape continues to shift. Abortion-inducing drugs must be discreetly transported into the United States where they’re available only with a prescription.

Those in the United States involved in building an accompaniment system face potential legal risks both criminally and civilly, especially as Republicans in states like Texas seek to choke off any and all possibility of allowing their residents to access abortion.

Adopting the Mexican model would also require a revolution in thinking about abortion in the U.S., removing the procedure from a system of doctors and clinics and shifting it into homes across states like Texas.

But that autonomy, Cardona Alanís and her partner Vanessa Jiménez Rubalcava often say, changes everything.

“This is an opening for women to realize that they can have abortions in their own homes,” Jiménez Rubalcava said. “When they realize it can be in their hands — and not in the hands of government or the medical system — there’s going to be no stopping them.”

Read the rest, it’s well worth your time. “Acompañamiento” is the collective term for this social movement created by women looking to help each other access safe abortion. Ensuring that misoprostal and mifepristone can get to women who need them for a medication abortion and expanding clinic access in Mexico for Americans who can travel there are a part of it. There’s a ton to admire about all this, but if you think that the border is politicized now, wait until abortion becomes part of that dynamic. It’s just a matter of time before someone claims that part of the justification for the border wall is to keep American women from crossing into Mexico to seek abortion care.

San Antonio passes its abortion access ordinance

Good.

With a 9-2 vote, San Antonio City Council approved a resolution on Tuesday that condemns Texas’ abortion ban and recommends that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to abortions.

“By passing this resolution, the City of San Antonio is committing to not using any city funds or data to sell out persons seeking out a safe abortion,” said Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), who spearheaded the resolution. “Furthermore, council is communicating to our governmental relations team that … protecting persons seeking an abortion is a priority heading into the state legislative session.”

More than 100 people signed up to speak during the raucous, nearly five-hour meeting. The speakers offered impassioned, often emotional testimony in favor and opposed to the resolution and the right to choose. Mayor Ron Nirenberg paused the meeting briefly after shouting erupted during testimony.

“While the legal authority over reproductive health policy lies with the state and federal governments, we do refuse to stand idly by and watch an important constitutional right, be taken away without speaking on behalf of our constituents,” Nirenberg said. “As federal and state law changes in the future, we must do all we can to support and gain ground for reproductive freedom.”

The resolution makes exceptions for investigations into instances where “coercion or force is used against the pregnant person, or in cases involving conduct criminally negligent to the health of the pregnant person seeking care.”

Several proponents of the resolution asked that more specific language be added to direct police to “deprioritize” abortion investigations.

The resolution does not prevent local law enforcement from investigating criminal cases of abortion, because the council cannot tell police departments how or whether to investigate criminal cases, according to state law and the city’s charter. Council can only make recommendations.

The resolution “does not decriminalize” abortion, City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “It does articulate a policy recommendation from the council.”

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has said he doesn’t plan on prosecuting abortion providers under the ban.

See here for the background. As we know, Dallas and Waco are also in the queue for similar action. As yet, I haven’t seen any response to ordinances like this one and the one passed by Austin from the likes of Abbott or Patrick or Paxton; they may just be talking on their channels and it hasn’t gotten to the regular news yet, or maybe they’re just keeping their powder dry for now. It’s just a matter of time, I’m sure. The Current has more.

Redistricting plaintiffs get a win on discovery

Every little bit helps.

A federal judge on Monday issued a wide-ranging discovery order requiring Texas state lawmakers to turn over documents related to the state’s congressional redistricting plans.

The underlying lawsuit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and several other civil rights groups, is part of a broad effort to correct what critics say is voter intimidation and discrimination in Texas heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

[…]

Like the separate lawsuit over Texas election laws, this redistricting case has continued to swell since its initial filing, with six other lawsuits consolidated into the legal fight. Days after the case was filed, the Fifth Circuit appointed a three-judge panel to oversee the increasingly complex case.

In November, the Justice Department also joined those suing state officials. It was doing so, the federal government said, because Texas redistricting plans had raised “important questions” about possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the case has largely hinged on issues of discovery. Texas lawmakers have battled against subpoenas, arguing that much of their work on redistricting was privileged information. They filed hundreds of pages of court documents detailing information they do not think they should have to turn over, including what they’ve described as “confidential communications” reflecting “thoughts, opinions and mental impressions.”

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to enforce subpoenas. The feds argue Texas officials have “inappropriately” claimed attorney-client privilege, refused to turn over documents from decades ago and “advanced an overbroad conception” of legislative privilege that has withheld “even communications with members of the public.” As a result, they say, lawmakers have disclosed “merely one-third” of the documents requested in subpoenas.

In his order on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Guaderrama, an Obama appointee, agreed with arguments from the DOJ and the civil rights groups. He found that Texas lawmakers were using overly broad theories of legislative privilege and could not “cloak conversations with executive-branch officials, lobbyists, and other interested outsiders.”

Guaderrama ruled the factors in this case weighed in favor of granting discovery requests. He cited the “seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved,” including allegations of lawbreaking and “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.

While Texas lawmakers asserted attorney-client privilege, the judge ruled they could not simply decline to release any documents referencing legal analysis, including scheduling calendars and communications with outside firms involved in redistricting. These documents are not “categorically privileged,” he wrote.

In the end, Guaderrama ordered Texas lawmakers to turn over a wide array of documents relating to redistricting, including “talking points” defending the maps. For any documents that contained “bona fide legal advice” or “privileged material,” Guaderrama ordered lawmakers to produce redacted versions.

About two months ago, the plaintiffs scored a different win in that three Republican legislators who had tried to avoid having to sit for depositions failed to get a lower court ruling against them overturned. If this ruling stands – always a dicey proposal when the Fifth Circuit is involved – then what the plaintiffs will gain is a lot of insight into what the legislators and their staff and advisors were saying to each other at the time. The experience from previous rounds of redistricting litigation is that there will be some good stuff there for the plaintiffs. Which still might not matter in the end, since SCOTUS has made its preferences very clear, but as I said in that last post, you have to start somewhere. Link via Reform Austin.

Dallas joins the abortion decriminalization queue

Good for them.

The Dallas City Council could consider a resolution in August aimed at blunting the impact of the Texas Legislature’s trigger law that will go into effect following the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade.

Dallas’ measure would direct city staff—which includes the Dallas Police Department—to make investigating and prosecuting accusations of abortion “the lowest priority for enforcement” and instructs City Manager T.C. Broadnax to not use “city resources, including … funds, personnel, or hardware” to create records regarding individual pregnancy outcomes, provide information about pregnancy outcomes to any agency, or to investigate whether an abortion has occurred, a draft copy of the resolution obtained by D reads.

“I would say that it technically really does accomplish the decriminalization here locally,” said Dallas City Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who worked on the resolution and chairs the committee that will consider the matter before it goes to the full Council. “Being the lowest priority, … there’s not much of an investigation that could be done if there’s no resources that are able to be allocated.”

The measure does not apply to instances where law enforcement officials might need to investigate cases of criminal negligence by a practitioner in the care of a pregnant person, or where force or coercion is used against a pregnant person.

The resolution will be introduced in a special-called meeting of the council’s Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee Tuesday. If approved by the committee, he aims to have it before the full Council at its Aug. 10 meeting. If it passes, Dallas would join many cities that have sought restrictions with similar resolutions, including Denton, Waco, and Austin. The San Antonio City Council will vote on its resolution Tuesday.

Yes, Denton and Waco. You knew about San Antonio and Austin, now you can add these three to the list.

Bazaldua said he knows the city can do little about the law itself, but he hopes this resolution would provide a measure of protection for healthcare providers who could face felony charges if suspected of providing an abortion. Pregnant people would also have similar protections, he said.

“There’s only so much that can be done at the local level and this is about as much as we can get,” he said, adding that after the resolution is passed, ideally the city would begin working with nonprofit and private-sector partners to help people locate resources if they need to travel to another state for an abortion.

He also doesn’t see this resolution endangering the city when it comes to another recently passed law that would penalize cities that “defund” their police departments. He argues that funding isn’t being reduced.

“What can they do? Punish a city for saying this should not be a priority of ours?” he said. “When we have violent crime that’s going on, that we should be focusing our resources and funding on?”

I mean, I wouldn’t put anything past Ken Paxton or the forced-birth fanatics in the Lege, but on its face that’s a strong argument. It’s also consistent with the earlier advice we saw about what cities can do on their end. I don’t know how this will play out – I cannot overemphasize how much effect the November elections could have in blunting the worst possible effects of the new anti-abortion laws and preventing the creation of new ones – but it feels good to do something, even if it may be transient. One has to wonder when there will be some action in Houston on this front. Is there a campaign going on about this that I haven’t seen yet?