A right-wing backlash from the defeat of former Donald Trump was always inevitable, but the Texas Legislature has sprinted further into extremism in one 48-hour period than ever before in the state’s history. Specifically, laws passed about guns, abortion access, and voting restrictions have taken Texas into the sort of terrifying territory usually reserved for comic books.
Removing what little gun control exists in Texas was a top priority for Governor Greg Abbott in his state of the state speech earlier this year. Abbott has a precarious political future, with rumors of a possible presidential run in 2024 but also having powerful conservative figures on the right eager to unseat him in 2022. Fighting gun control remains a favorite way for Abbott to stir up his right-wing base even if gun control has the overwhelming support of most Texans.
The ability to carry guns with no license has passed both the House and the Senate and is currently in conference committee for the final version. Abbott has already said that he would sign the bill. For a while, it looked like popular opposition would defeat the measure in the Senate, but it ultimately prevailed. The move is seen as particularly odorous only two years after Texas had two high-profile mass shootings.
The bill has been a priority of the gun lobby for many years, though it’s struggled to win enough support to pass in previous sessions. The specter of a Democratic president enacting even very mild new gun control initiatives supported by the majority of Americans finally gave gun supremacists the emotional charge they needed. The claim for years has been that an armed society is a safer society, but that myth has been thoroughly debunked after analyzing bad data collection practices. It’s telling that permitless carry has only now come this far as part of a reactionary right-wing movement.
Senate Bill 8, which has just passed the House and the Senate, is the greatest restriction on abortion access that Texas has ever seen. The Texas Republican Party has been unhappy that a heartbeat bill was not moving through the Legislature fast enough, leading them to launch a new scorecard judging Republicans for not adequately encroaching on reproductive rights. The threat was apparently successful, as the heartbeat bill has now prevailed.
Even more unsettling, the bill would allow third parties to sue abortion providers for helping someone obtain an abortion in violation of the law, as well as sue people who donate to abortion providers. Under questioning from State Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), lawyers supporting the bill were forced to admit that it would allow rapists to sue their victims for aborting a resulting pregnancy. In the end, an amendment was added and rapists can’t sue their victims, but a friend or relative of them can.
The bill treads an extremely fine line between a legal ban and a near-practical one, something that is almost certainly going to land it before the Supreme Court. With a 6-3 conservative majority, Republicans hope a decision there would allow them to prohibit abortion in the majority of cases where one is sought.
More than 200 doctors have sent a letter to state lawmakers saying the bill was a bad idea that places physicians at risk of frivolous lawsuits and endangers healthcare in the state.
“Regardless of our personal beliefs about abortion, as licensed physicians in Texas, we implore you to not weaponize the judicial branch against us to make a political point,” the letter reads. Unfortunately, it looks like these lawmakers are happy to risk the lives and health of Texans for political gain.
Perhaps the most frightening of the extreme right-wing moves has been Republicans’ attempt to disenfranchise as many voters as possible. The omnibus bill of voting access restrictions has already passed the House after a very contentious session and looks like it may even be rewritten behind closed doors before final passage. What is already known in the bill is frightening enough, including severe restrictions on the number of voting machines at locations that will disproportionately affect cities; limits on who can vote by mail, help someone vote by mail, or even send out applications to vote by mail; penalties for poll workers who admonish partisan poll watchers; and the constricting of hours a voting location can be open.
The discriminatory nature of the bill, which would mostly target the poor, the disabled, ethnic minorities, and other voting blocs that tend to be liberal, was highlighted in a now-famous exchange between State Rep. Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas) and the bill’s champion, State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Webster). Anchía pointed out that the bill referred to the “purity” of the ballot box, a phrase that entered the Texas legal lexicon shortly after women’s suffrage as a way to keep Blacks from casting ballots. Cain claimed to not be aware of the history of the phrase.
The anti-voting rights bill has the potential to affect most Texans directly, making the already Republican-dominated state even harder to challenge through franchise. With most of the high state leadership up for re-election in 2022, the law is likely to shield Abbott and others from any sort of rebuttal to their current actions.