Friends, Texans, countrywomen (apologies to W. Shakespeare), lend me your ears. I come to bury Craddick, not to praise him. And unlike Mark Antony, I don’t wish to turn your hearts against those brave legislators who would unseat our homespun Caesar, for it’s true that the evil that men do lives long after them — even when that evil is incidental to their true purpose.
My antennae are tuned to the state Capitol as I write, where supporters of reproductive freedom are ready for pitched battle in the House over Florence Shapiro’s C.S.S.B. 785, the Abortion Reporting Requirement Act. Representative Harold Dutton may have found a fatal Point of Order; if that fails, allies are armed with 50-odd amendments.
C.S.S.B. 785 would require physicians who provide abortion services to collect personally invasive information from patients, such as the fathers’ ages, hometowns, and pregnancy histories, and report it to the Texas Department of State Health Services. It would also require the state to report by county judicial bypasses granted to minors seeking abortions without parental consent, potentially exposing those judges to political pressure, harassment, or worse. `See The MashUp, May 9-15.`
It’s worth noting that this bill feeds into a myth that the far right has been cultivating ever since Roe v. Wade: that women are somehow victims of abortion and must be protected from its practitioners. The bill also requires physicians to collect and immediately report any follow-up care a woman seeks after having an abortion. The reason, according to the bill’s summary, is that up till now these cases may have been classified as pregnancy-related, and “Such reporting may result in an inaccurate inflation of statistics regarding the risks of pregnancy and childbirth.” Got that? They’re essentially suggesting that the statistics that reproductive-rights advocates often cite — that abortion is considerably safer than the risks posed by pregnancy and childbirth — could be inflated by Texas’s 65-odd abortion-care providers.
But back to the topic at hand: Absolute power, corruption, etc. etc. You might imagine that this bill made it to the House Major State Calendar — the priority schedule for legislation — because the leadership is committed to the arch-conservative principles it embodies. Yet, C.S.S.B. 785 was languishing in the State Affairs committee, where it was passed May 7, until last week, when a Republican revolt against Speaker Craddick began to take shape. On May 17, the office of House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam pieced together the suspicious-looking timeline in a memo:
• On May 14, Austin-based Texas Alliance for Life, a major backer of the 79th Legislature’s Parental Consent Law, sent an email to House members threatening to “score any vote to unseat the Speaker as an anti-life vote.”
• On May 15, the Abortion Reporting bill was finally sent to Calendars, where it was quickly considered and placed on the Major State Calendar for May 17, “leapfrog`ging` 347 other bills then pending in Calendars to be placed on Major State,” according to Dunnam’s office.
The conclusion: “C.S.S.B. 785 is a reward to Texas Alliance for Life for threatening Members,” Dunnam asserted, adding a prescient warning that “It will divide the House.”
The rift is growing daily. Complaining among other things that Craddick has held up the budget-approval process because he’s cutting deals to keep his post, as of press time four Republicans (two of them members of Craddick’s leadership team) had declared their intention to challenge Craddick for the Speakership for the 2009 session. Joining repeat candidate Jim Pitts of Waxahachie are Brian McCall, Plano, Jim Keffer, Eastland, and Fred Hill, Richardson. Capitol hawks say a coup could happen before the session comes to an end next week.
Hold your cheers a bit, though. Although it seems, as Heather Paffe, political director for the Texas Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates says, “It can’t get any worse than it is now,” sometimes bad is good. Keffer reportedly is upset that their Republican majority has declined by seven members since Craddick became Speaker in 2003. As one post on Chron.com put it, “If I were a Democrat in the house, the very last thing I would want would be for Craddick to lose his speakers job. He is the best thing the Dems have going. He is the ‘Newt’ of Texas and is the poster boy for corrupt power. Long live Craddick.”