On September 1, several new laws went into effect here in Texas – 666 to be exact; a number that surely makes evangelicals tremble. Some, like Senate Bill 968, which bans “vaccine passports”, became law immediately when Gov. Greg Abbott signed them in June. Others, such as House Bill 2730, which deals with eminent domain, go into effect January 1, 2022.
Overall, it appears that some of them are designed to oppress the basic human and constitutional rights of certain groups. The Texas State Legislature meets every two years and, in 2019, their principal goal was to loosen gun restrictions even more than they already were. Those of us who aren’t obsessed with firearms (meaning we don’t suffer from Pencil-Penis Syndrome) wondered how much more lax these rules could become. Stupidity never ceases to amaze me, and conservatives in the Texas State House always deliver.
This year’s session, though, has raised eyebrows and tempers across the nation – and mainly because of two of those 666 laws in particular. One deals with voting and the other with abortion. Abortion has always been an open wound for social and religious conservatives. To them it’s worse than the growing economic inequalities in the country, the prescription drug epidemic, or the fact that so many children in the U.S. live in poverty. Pro-life conservatives are “pro-life” – up to the time that baby is born. Once it pops out of the placental oven, it’s pretty much on its own.
Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, it is the most ardent assault upon reproductive freedom since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It bans abortions no matter the circumstance (including rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) after the sixth week of pregnancy, which is usually before most women learn they’re pregnant. It bears that moniker because an embryonic heartbeat allegedly can be detected at the sixth week. In reality, the heart hasn’t developed by that point; only the muscles that eventually will become the heart have formed. The term is misleading. The sound of a heartbeat is generated by the opening and closing of the heart valves. Those valves haven’t formed yet at 6 weeks. When someone detects this so-called “fetal heartbeat”, it’s the sound generated by the ultrasound machine. But self-righteous conservatives in the Texas State Legislature don’t see it that way. It doesn’t conform to their narrow view of reality. In other words, a group of (mostly male) politicians have decided they know more about human development and reproductive health care than actual medical professionals.
But the “fetal heartbeat” law goes even further – allowing anyone who assists in an abortion after that sixth week to be held liable as a criminal accessory and sued for up to $10,000. This isn’t aimed strictly at those in the medical industry. Giving a woman a ride to an abortion clinic, for example, opens them to criminal charges under this law; which means cab drivers are subject. Perhaps comforting a woman after the abortion could be considered criminal. Would a plumber who repairs water pipes in a women’s health clinic be deemed a criminal? It’s not the state that would bring the charges; the $10,000 penalty is for any individual who files suit under the law. Thus, if someone is upset (gets their feelings hurt) because of an abortion, they’re entitled for up to $10,000 compensation.
I’m upset there’s so much stupidity in the world. Where’s my financial compensation?
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to abortion rights when it refused to take up the new Texas law for consideration. Previously, it’s overturned similar laws passed by other states. But for the past few years, conservatives have been pushing these draconian measures for the mere sake of having the High Court review the Roe v. Wade decision and ultimately overturn it. The Court’s refusal to examine this Texas law is a blatant nod to right-wing extremists who feel divinely appointed to control other people’s lives.
The other new law gaining notoriety is Senate Bill 1, which targets the voting process. SB 1 limits the early voting period and bans 24-hour and drive-through voting. The drive-through voting idea was proposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections. Perhaps the most alarming feature of this law is that it allows poll watchers greater access. Voter intimidation is not just rude; it’s felonious. But don’t tell that to Abbott and the rest of the Republican mafia in Texas who symbolize ongoing efforts by conservatives nationwide to undermine the right to vote – the very genesis of democratic societies. It’s something we’ve tried to instill in other countries, such as…well, Iraq and Afghanistan. But, just like the World War II generation moved Heaven and Earth to stop fascism in Europe, yet did nothing to end it here in the U.S., conservatives want people in developing nations to be able to vote in clean and fair elections – without putting the same amount of effort at home.
Like most of the nation, Texas is still in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with a resurgence of infections and increasing hospitalizations. This past February the Texas power grid system almost completely collapsed with the onset of Winter Storm Uri. Scores of people died. Much of the rest of the state’s infrastructure – mostly roads and bridges – are in dire need of repair or replacement. And, of course, all those children in Texas and across the nation who are uninsured…doesn’t pro-life also mean taking care of them?
The new gaggle of laws has a few other gems – good and bad. HB 1535 allows people to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes. SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Assistance Program for older and disabled citizens; individuals can forgo the normally required interviews and have a shortened application process. Now this measure is what I would deem pro-life!
On the other hand, we have HB 2497, which establishes an “1836 Project” committee produce educational materials dedicated to Texas history. In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo launched Texas’ separation from México. It’s in contrast to the “1619 Project”, which examines U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved Africans.
Moreover, HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class. The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and – wait for it – bans teaching of the aforementioned “1619 Project”.
I attribute these social studies bills as efforts by White conservatives to undermine the true history of the United States; that Native Americans were more civilized and intellectual than many realize; that the “founding fathers” weren’t devout Christians; and that the Civil War really was about keeping an entire race of people enslaved and not states’ rights. Like the presidency of Donald Trump, it’s a strike back against decades of progressive thought and ambition.
I never know what to think of these right-wing fools in elected office. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put up that sign on my front lawn offering free rides to abortion clinics.