‘Right-to Life’ groups battle … each other

‘Right-to Life’ groups battle … each other

Three groups involved in legislative efforts to drastically limit abortion rights to the extent that the Roe v. Wade decision will allow are back on the battle lines in Austin this week, but their opponent is not Planned Parenthood or NARAL. Instead they are squaring off in bitter opposition with their fellow “pro-life” organizations.

The issue is the Texas Advance Directives Act, a 1999 law now enshrined in the Texas Health & Safety Code. Controversy over these provisions mainly centers on Section 166.046, Subsection (e), which allows a health care facility to discontinue life-sustaining treatment 10 days after giving written notice if the continuation of life-sustaining treatment is considered futile care by the treating medical team.

The law was enacted after the case of Terri Schiavo in Florida attracted national attention when the husband of the woman in a persistent vegetative state attempted to remove the feeding tube of his brain-dead wife. Her parents opposed the move and recruited controversial anti-abortion leader Randall Terry as their spokesman, who soon had rings of chanting protestors encircling the hospital. A political donnybrook ensued involving Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida courts, the Florida legislature, the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush, who dramatically flew back to the White House from vacation at his ranch in Texas to sign an emergency bill in a vain attempt to resolve the Schiavo “crisis” as her stomach tube was removed, re-inserted and removed again in a futile attempt to protect her right to life.

The Texas law was designed to insert some sanity into the process when a similar tragedy occurred here, but was seen by some as needing fine-tuning. In the 2013 session, then-Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) unsuccessfully pushed changes to give patients’ families greater protections while providing clarity for doctors in situations when physicians and families do not agree about how to deal with a terminal illness.

Texas Right to Life, however, endorsed a bill that “would have abolished hospital ethics committees and required doctors to continue treatment until the patient or the patient’s surrogate found an alternative provider,” according to a Becca Aaronson article in the Texas Tribune.

In a battle that saw both bills to change the Texas Advance Directives Act fail, Texas Right to Life was out for blood, pushing lawmakers to support its preferred Senate Bill 675 and attacking those that supported the competing Senate Bill 303.

Now, a bill to modify the law is back this session but the call for pro-life groups to meet to discuss the issue is being blocked by this giant advocacy group that claims a membership of 250,000 households and tosses around terms like “death panels” and “hospital imperialism” and cites biblical authority for its actions.

In a commentary on its website, Texas Right to Life asserts, “Our inclination is to abide by Matthew 7:6 and stay on the course with those who demonstrate good faith. Our sense of urgency to show our cards to those who derail our legislative efforts to do the bidding of the establishment and Big Medicine is equal to that of our desire to attend Planned Parenthood’s rally day to find common ground.”

On the other side of that political intransigence are the Texas Coalition for Life, the Texas Alliance for Life, Catholic groups, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and multiple medical associations, all with solid, pro-life credentials not questioned by anyone except the mullahs at Texas Right to Life. When their opposing bill also failed to pass in 2013, Texas Right to Life declared war on those apostates who dared oppose them. Targeting lawmakers with “scorecards” that cherry-picked votes to make pro-life senators and representatives seem sinister, they aided challengers to incumbents – some of whom lost. Now they fear ethics reform to the Texas Election Code that might force groups that act in concert with others to disclose their contributors. That is anathema to Texas Right to Life, which insists it has a First Amendment right to influence elections with dubious tactics and fistfuls of cash while hiding behind a wall of anonymity. They may indeed have the right to do just that, but as a matter of policy, it is the type of political behavior with the potential to disgust voters in both parties.

It appears any conduct can be justified if you slap the “pro-life” label on it. Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) filed a bill this week that would require hospitals to keep brain-dead pregnant women on life support and appoint a legal representative for the woman’s fetus in court proceedings.

The bill was written in the wake of the highly publicized case of Marlise Muñoz, a North Texas woman who collapsed when she was 14 weeks pregnant and showed no signs of brain activity. Her family asked that she be removed from life support, but John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth refused, citing state law.

Her family watched her body deteriorate for two months before a state district judge ruled that the Texas Advance Directives Act, which states that “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant patient, did not apply because Muñoz was legally dead.

Muñoz’s mother, Lynne Machado, said the family does not support Krause’s proposal and would testify against it.

Meanwhile, a House Republican warned this week that proposed changes to a women’s health program — intended to gut funding for Planned Parenthood clinics — would put lives in danger.

State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) said a Senate scheme to alter the way money is distributed through a cancer screening program for low-income Texans could cause dozens of clinics — not just Planned Parenthood’s — to close their doors.

“I don’t think it is appropriate to continue to fund the women’s health program so that we can make some type of a political statement as Republicans that we care about women, only to chip away at the safety net of the providers,” Davis told House budget writers. “If we don’t have the provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

Which somehow seems antithetical to pro-life principals – but those deaths are unlikely to turn up on legislative scorecards that emerge at election time. Maybe they should.

The problem with this impasse isn’t unique to Texas Right to Life. When you think you are on the side of the angels, any opponent – even on procedural grounds – becomes the devil. Sometimes reality is a little more complicated than that.


James Shannon writes about politics and government for The Examiner. He can be reached at james [at] theexaminer [dot] com