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Texas Democrats outline path to protecting abortion

Wendy Davis (at podium) and other Texas Democrats outlined their requests to the White House at a news conference Saturday morning.
Azul Sordo
Wendy Davis (at podium) and other Texas Democrats outlined their requests to the White House at a news conference Saturday morning.

In a letter to the White House, Texas abortion advocates map out a plan for how the federal government can ensure access to medication abortion and protect out-of-state travel.

More than 50 Texas Democrats and abortion rights groups, including former Texas state senator Wendy Davis and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Texas, signed a letter on Saturday urging President Joe Biden to safeguard abortion access for Texans seeking care in and out of the state.

Biden signed an executive order on Monday that requires hospitals to provide abortion care if the mother’s life is at risk. The guidance states federal law preempts state bans on abortion.

Greg Casar, a former Austin city council member and the Democratic candidate for Texas’ 35th Congressional district, said Texans need more.

“We appreciate the steps the administration has taken,” Casar said. “There are other steps that Texans in crisis need right now.”

The letter, which the Texas Newsroom obtained on Friday, outlines steps to protect all Texans who access abortion care. That includes those who travel out of state and people who get a prescription for the abortion pill through telehealth while still in state.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration over its executive order on abortion. The Texas Democrats who signed the letter are calling on Biden and the Justice Department to safeguard those who leave the state to get an abortion and the providers who assist them from similar civil or criminal actions.

But Davis said there are many people in Texas who don’t have the means or privilege to travel – she spoke of a patient who told an abortion clinic that even if the clinic chartered a private jet, she wouldn’t be able to leave the state.

“That is the reality for so many people in our state who have jobs that they cannot leave, have children that they can't find alternative care for,” Davis said.

That’s why Davis said there needs to be federal protections for medication abortion so Texans can still get care without crossing state lines. To do this, the Biden administration would declare a public health emergency to protect providers who prescribe the abortion pill via telehealth.

Davis said Biden should also establish a program for federal healthcare employees and contractors to prescribe the medication. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from funding most abortions, but the letter argues there’s a way around that – let the federal providers volunteer their time to give out pills paid for by donations.

Texas Democrats also argue in the letter that the state’s abortion law banning the medication conflicts with federal law. The abortion pill has FDA approval, so Democrats say that federal authorization should override state law.

Still, Davis said the actions outlined in this letter are a temporary solution – the ultimate goal is to codify the right to an abortion legally.

“This is what we have to do in the meantime,” she said. “And it matters that we do it because women in Texas and in other states where abortion is illegal, we can't wait for that kind of a long-term solution. We need help now.”

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.