HB2: Don't Expect Texas Democrats to Win the Abortion Bill Fight


Texas’ efforts to enact more stringent anti-abortion laws initially seized national attention when more than two weeks ago, State Senator Wendy Davis (D) filibustered a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks for nearly 13 hours, vowing to stand with Texas women. Last night, the state Republicans’ pro-life efforts proved successful when the Texas Senate passed the bill into law, albeit by a strictly partisan margin.

There was neither an attempted filibuster nor a realistic chance for the Democrats to defeat the bill by means of a vote. Democrats have, however, promised their supporters, both those who have flooded the halls of the State Capitol in protest and those silent others across the state, to fight this new law in court. Yet despite the arsenal of potential legal options that Democrats might have, it is unlikely that they will be able to defeat the law — or at least all of it.

State Senator Royce West (D), one of the law’s staunchest and most vocal adversaries, has promised that "As soon as it's signed by the governor, it's going to be challenged."

While Texas Democrats have every right to challenge the constitutionality of the law, it is unlikely that their appeal will result in change. First of all, before going before the Supreme Court, a case against law HB2 will be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that has largely proved accepting of anti-abortion measures.

Moreover, the very framework of the law will make it difficult to defeat in totality.

There are four fundamental provisions to the law: Abortion is illegal after 20 weeks, all abortions must be performed in ambulatory surgical center, an abortion doctor must have admission privileges to such a center within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic, and a doctor must administer abortion-inducing medication in person. These provisions, though undoubtedly strengthened by each other, are not dependent on the others in order to stand as effective regulations. And Texas Republicans ensured that if the court knocks down one provision, the entire law will not be nullified.

In any case, especially one in which their legal initiatives are unsuccessful, Texas Democrats hope that the law will be defeated politically, namely in the 2014 elections. While a Democrat has not won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994, the longest such streak in the nation, the party hopes that the political composition of the state government will change as a sort of referendum on HB2.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards warned: "In the long run, all they have done is build a committed group of people across this state who are outraged about the treatment of women and the lengths to which this Legislature will go to take women's health care away."

That said, even if Democrats can exploit HB2 in order to appeal to Texas' female and pro-choice voters, it is unlikely that enough Democrats will be elected to reverse or substantially affect the new law and its legitimacy.