Written by Annyston Pennington
On October 17th, the second day of Texas Tribune Festival events, a panel convened in a lecture hall on the University of Texas campus to discuss the ever-controversial issue, “Texas v. Abortion.” Residing on the panel were: State Representative Republican Matt Krause, First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy, Stephanie Toti, Senior Counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Attorney Sarah Weddington, former University of Texas professor and representative to “Jane Roe” of the Roe v. Wade supreme court case.
The focus of discussion was HB2, or Texas House Bill 2, which would regulate and restrict abortion clinics as well as place limitations on when women could receive abortions and through what medical process. Health care providers who fail to meet the bill’s standards would be penalized. HB2 passed in the House in July of 2013 during the second special legislative session and will be voted on in the Texas Senate unless further Supreme Court intervention takes place.
Due to the controversial nature of this bill, the panel was bisected between Toti and Weddington, who upheld the need for affordable, accessible women’s health care, and Krause and Roy who insisted on the need for higher standards of safety for women visiting these clinics.
Both parties came out swinging from the beginning to the delight of equally outspoken audience members. The panel had just been introduced when Weddington called attention to the small audience, suggesting the lack of advertising for the event—and her presence there—were suspect for the disproportionate ratio of viewers to the gravity of the issue. In the presence of such powerful personalities, moderator Alexa Ura attempted to rein the event along a series of questions, first outlining HB2, its specifics, its supporters, and its side effects should it be passed.
Krause and Roy insisted that the motivation behind HB2 lied not only in the protection of “babies who feel pain at 20 weeks” but the upholding of standards for women’s health care in the state of Texas.
Krause and Roy insisted that the motivation behind HB2 lied not only in the protection of “babies who feel pain at 20 weeks” but the upholding of standards for women’s health care in the state of Texas. While Krause employed expected pro-life rhetoric, Roy substantiated their position with case reports on abortion clinic conditions, which he read from a packet of papers. Roy’s evidence pointed to “dirty instruments” and improper handling of biomaterials, among other health violations.
Toti immediately denounced Roy’s “women’s health” argument. She stated that the passing of HB2 would cause about 75% of abortion clinics to close due to the high costs of meeting the new health standards, though clinics would be given the opportunity to adjust. Based on this statistic, she suggested closing abortion clinics was the ulterior motive of HB2 supporters.
[Toti] suggested closing abortion clinics was the ulterior motive of HB2 supporters.
Representative Krause argued that the stance behind HB2 was not in fact anti-choice but “pro-life,” garnering a smattering of supportive applause and a chorus of groans from the audience. Reading from a packet of papers, Roy followed Kraus’s argument of ethos by testifying to evidence of poor cleanliness and medical misconduct within abortion clinics as a sign of HB2’s necessity.
Toti refuted Roy’s points by sharing the statistic that Texas sustains one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the United States at approximately 25 deaths per 100,000 women, a rate 2-3 times higher for women of color. She added that while there were no reported abortion-related deaths in Texas to account for, no legislative investment had been made to respond to the issue of maternal mortality or how the mortality rates corresponded to race and socioeconomic status. In an effort to pull the debate back to the right, Krause noted that abortion is the only health procedure with a desired “100% death rate.”
The discussion continued similarly with Krause and Roy defending HB2 with packets of information and pro-life rhetoric while Toti refuted their points with an almost reflexive knowledge of what they would say and what information would undercut their statements.
Weddington interjected by touching on Roe v Wade—what she referred to as the “best known case of all those brought to the Supreme Court”—as a point of context. She related the history of UT’s health services during her time as a professor, telling how UT used to not offer women information on contraception prevention. She related this point to current political offensives barring women from necessary information and health care, and how it is vital for citizens—and students—to vote for those who would protect them.
[Weddington] related…how it is vital for citizens—and students—to vote for those who would protect them.
A Q&A session closed the event, and audience members rushed to the two microphones for the opportunity to question the panelists on their disparate stances. Many questions reflected the general distaste for HB2 and the surrounding pro-life agenda while a couple of questions attempted to catch Toti off her game. In the flurry of emotion and political intensity, the event ended. Audience members approached the stage to speak to the panelists one-on-one—and take a few photos with active members of the pro-life and pro-choice communities.
While for many the event was emotionally exhausting due to the amount of contention surrounding the subject, the “Texas v. Abortion” panel provided a space for Texas citizens to speak on a subject that directly affects Texans and to those whose decisions cause real change within the state.