The overt radical Christianization of Texas politics continued this week as the Texas Senate voted for a bill that would allow an anti-abortion statue to be erected on Capitol grounds.
The statue, “Life Monument” by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, depicts the Virgin Mary with a fetal Jesus inside of her. It was first installed at the Church of San Marcello al Corso in Rome in 2022, and copies have made their way around the world since.
Aside from the sectarian religiosity of the piece on public grounds, the statue is almost a victory lap for Texas Republicans following their near-total ban on abortion that was triggered after the fall of constitutional reproductive freedom when the US. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Schmalz has made it very clear that he sees his work as a statement about abortion.
“Now, more than ever, with the debate underway in the United States, this sculpture, which is in Rome and also in the USA, is even more meaningful,” Schmalz said when the original was unveiled. “It is a celebration and also a persuasion. I wanted to use art to persuade people and remind everyone that life is beautiful.”
Sen. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) denied that the art was an anti-abortion celebratory gesture, calling it merely an expression of motherhood.
Life, as depicted in Schmalz’s statue, may be beautiful, but it’s also become extremely hard for pregnant Texans since reproductive freedom was snatched from them by the court’s decision. Five women and two doctors are currently suing the state after the ban forced them to carry unviable pregnancies that severely endangered their lives.
Meanwhile, maternal deaths, especially among Black women, are once again on the rise in the state as more people with fewer means are prohibited from ending dangerous pregnancies. Neo-natal ICU professionals say more babies are being born with severe defects or developmental delays, a rise that began once the state-wide ban took effect.
The bill will not automatically put a statue on capitol grounds. Instead, it will enable the State Preservation Board permission to accept private bids to erect the statue. That funding is almost certain to be available thanks to the continued support of very rich far right oil and gas moguls like Tim Dunn and Farris Wilkes.
On the backs of checks written by PACs controlled by Dunn and Wilkes, the Texas Republican Party has moved sharply rightward as well as closer to outright theocracy. Moderate Republicans have been targeted for removal in primaries and niche radical endeavors like school vouchers have been pushed relentlessly to tear down the wall between church and the public sector in the state.
The bill now goes to the House. Whether it will pass is anyone’s guess, but the lower chamber now has its hands full with many theocratic proposals such as mandating the Ten Commandments be displayed in public school classrooms and the ongoing fight to funnel tax money to religious schools through vouchers. The erection of the statue, or even just the possibility of it, is yet another example of Texas Republicans forcing religion on the residents of the state.