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As Texas is poised to automatically ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, some Republicans are already looking to the next target to fight the procedure: companies that say they will help employees get out-of-state abortions.
Fourteen Republican members of the state House of Representatives have pledged to introduce bills in the next legislative session that would prevent companies from doing business in Texas if they paid for abortions in states where the procedure is legal.
This would explicitly prevent companies from offering employees access to abortion-related care through health insurance benefits. It would also expose the leaders to criminal prosecution under pre-Roe anti-abortion laws that the legislature never repealed, lawmakers say.
Their proposal underscores how ending abortion would lead to a new phase — not the end — of the fight in Texas over the procedure. Lawmakers pushing for trade rules have signaled they plan to act aggressively in the next legislative session. But it remains to be seen whether they will manage to get a majority on their side.
The members, led by Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, laid out their plans in a letter to Lyft CEO Logan Green, released Wednesday.
Green caught the attention of lawmakers on April 29, when he said on Twitter that the ride-sharing company would help pregnant Oklahoma and Texas residents seek abortion care in other states. Green also pledged to cover the legal costs of any Lyft driver sued under Senate Bill 8, the Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps obtain an abortion.
“The State of Texas will take swift and decisive action if you do not immediately rescind your recently announced policy of paying travel expenses for women who abort their unborn children,” the letter reads.
The letter also outlines other legislative priorities, including allowing Texas shareholders of publicly traded companies to sue executives for paying for abortion care, as well as allowing district attorneys to prosecute crimes related to abortion. abortion outside their home county.
Six of the 14 signatories, including Cain, are members of the far-right Texas Freedom Caucus. The political support these proposals have in the Republican caucus is unclear. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, declined to comment. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott did not respond.
Given that the legislative session is more than seven months away, Cain said in an email that “a letter drafted and sent quickly can hardly be considered to reflect the pulse of my fellow Republicans.” He was convinced, however, that his ideas would find some support in the Senate.
“Knowing this chamber and its leadership, I’m willing to bet that legislation targeting this issue will be introduced quickly in January,” Cain said.
But that would likely mean targeting companies the state has courted as potential job creators. Tesla, for example, announced this month that it would pay employees’ travel expenses when they leave the state to have abortions. Abbott celebrated the electric car company’s move to Austin last year and this year urged its CEO, Elon Musk, move Twitter headquarters to Texasalso, if he completes his purchase of the social media company.
Republican politicians need to pay much more attention to abortion politics if Roe v. Wade falls, said Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University who has written a book on abortion law in the United States. Whereas in the past lawmakers could pass any number of abortion restrictions that had to be struck down by the courts, that safety net would no longer exist.
Ziegler said while a broad conservative coalition wants to ban abortions in Texas, there is disagreement over how aggressively to enforce related criminal laws or try to prevent pregnant residents from leaving the state for the procedure. Republican politicians therefore have an incentive to remain silent on the issue until they can determine which course of action is the most politically prudent.
“It’s not easy being a Republican anymore,” Ziegler said. “Before, everyone was like, ‘Yes, let’s get rid of Roe v. Wade.’ Now, if you can do whatever you want, what do you want to do?”
Lyft did not respond to a request for comment. Several other major companies, including Amazon, Uber and Starbucks, also said they would help employees or customers get abortions outside of Texas. None responded to requests for comment.
Business concerns helped derail Republican lawmakers’ efforts to enact the so-called restroom bill in the 2017 session, which would have required people to use the facilities corresponding to their assigned sex at birth or approaching it. Moderate Chairman Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, rejected Patrick’s demands to make the bill a priority.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said although Straus has since retired, she hopes a coalition of Democrats and centrist Republicans will come together to block abortion-related laws that impose new business restrictions.
“There were opportunities for business-minded Republicans and business-minded Democrats to come together and prevent these kinds of extreme policies,” Howard said of Straus’ tenure. “I hope it happens again. … We are at a crucial point here of causing serious damage that will be difficult to repair.
The Texas Association of Businesses, Texas Chamber of Commerce leaders and the Greater Houston Partnership declined to comment or did not respond to questions about the abortion restriction proposals in the Republicans’ letter.
Disclosure: The Greater Houston Partnership, Lyft, and the Texas Association of Business financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors . Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune‘journalism. Find a full list here.
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