STATEMENT: SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON CHAIRMAN JEFF LEACH’S ANTI-ABORTION EXTREMISM
A coalition of reproductive rights and justice organizations (listed at the bottom) is releasing the following statement about the recent public dialogue surrounding anti-abortion legislation and legislators in Texas, particularly state Rep. Jeff Leach, Chair of the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence:
We have watched with dismay the state and national media coverage of extreme anti-abortion legislation proposed in the Texas Legislature and the frankly bizarre confrontation between anti-abortion activists and anti-abortion lawmakers here.
To set the record straight, Chairman Leach is falsely trying to position himself as somehow both a champion for anti-abortion extremists and a champion for women.
Chairman Leach has directed his committee to hear one anti-abortion bill after another, each seemingly more extreme than the last. In fact, many of these bills are so extreme and their provisions so divorced from the reality of modern medicine that they serve only to stigmatize abortion, shame women who have one, and demonize doctors who perform them.
This week Chairman Leach chose to hold a public hearing on HB896, which defies the established, constitutional right to access abortion as a safe and legal reproductive health care option. It is a bill so extreme that he declared it would not pass out of his committee. Yet he chose to give a public stage to extremists who spent hours calling women who have an abortion murderers. They gleefully celebrated the fact that, under this bill, a woman who ends a pregnancy early for any reason could be subject to criminal charges and even the death penalty.
It was shocking to watch. But to add insult to injury, despite his claim to be holding a respectful hearing, Chairman Leach interrupted and openly berated a young legislative intern who testified against the bill, which subjected her to harassment after her testimony. And he repeated vile and unfounded claims extremists use to smear abortion providers.
Frankly, we are bewildered by Chairman Leach’s insistence that he does not support HB896 because he opposes prosecuting women who have an abortion. He seems to be trying to convince voters that he isn’t the same extremist he was when he co-sponsored essentially the same bill just two years ago. According to his own statements justifying his new stance, he worries that punishing women for their private medical decisions isso unpopular that to advance the notion or say it too loudly and clearly is, “bad for the Pro-Life Movement.” Yet he did just that by giving the bill a hearing and allowing hundreds of people to publicly call for criminalization and even the execution of women who have an abortion.
The hearing on HB896 – as with so many anti-abortion bills that have been heard in Chairman Leach’s committee this session – was little more than political theater at its most grotesque. It was a stunningly irresponsible decision for the chair of a legislative committee to hear such an extreme bill – especially one he had no intention of allowing to pass.
Now Chairman Leach expects a pat on the back when he doesn’t advance the bill. But when he turns his committee into a platform for bullying advocates and shaming women who have an abortion, that expectation is simply absurd.
In light of all of this, we would like to share some of our sincerely held beliefs about this issue:
- We believe in trusting women to make their own reproductive health care decisions, including the timing and spacing of their children.
- We believe in respecting the medical and ethical judgment of health care professionals about the care their patients seek – including abortion care.
- And we believe it is unconscionable when elected officials promote lies, inflammatory misinformation and slanderous name calling in an effort to shame women, limit their reproductive health care options, and score political points, particularly in the middle of a maternal mortality crisis.
Chairman Leach’s actions reveal he does not share these beliefs. But let’s make something very clear: the shaming, denigrating and bullying of those who seek abortion care, those who defend that right, and those who provide that care must stop.
The voters are watching.
Texas Freedom Network
NARAL Pro-Choice Texas
Whole Woman’s Health
Deeds Not Words
Texas Equal Access Fund