Dallas County Commissioners Court Approves Own Local Abortion Statement
The Dallas County Commissioners Court voted on Wednesday in favor of a resolution to protect pregnant women from lawsuits if they seek an abortion, citing the right to keep the doctor-patient relationship private.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said in June he would not pursue any cases once state law made the proceedings illegal. The commissioners’ court resolution doesn’t do much, but it aligns the body with others across the state who have sought to make statements that put them at odds with the Texas Legislature.
The vote comes a week after the Dallas City Council passed a resolution directing police to consider investigating possible abortions on “the lowest possible priority.” It also ordered the city manager not to use public resources to create records of pregnancy outcomes or provide information about those outcomes to any other outside agency that may request it.
Dallas, San Antonio, Denton, Waco, El Paso and Austin have all passed versions of the so-called Abortion Rights Protection for All Act, or GRACE. The Dallas County resolution differs as it does not inform on any prioritization regarding investigations, instead focusing on the public health implications of banning abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. .
The resolution, which was introduced by District 1 Commissioner Theresa Daniel, states that the county “honors the right of pregnant individuals to bodily autonomy and control over their private medical decisions and to protection of the patient- doctor”.
The resolution references Texas Bill 1280, which criminalizes abortions, as well as language from the recently overturned Roe v. Wade decision. While it does not implicitly say the county will not prioritize abortion investigations, it does indicate that the county “has a responsibility to protect its residents from any violation of their human rights and from any prosecution for the free exercise thereof”.
District 2 Commissioner JJ Koch said he was uncomfortable supporting the measure because he felt it gave tacit approval to late-term abortions.
“When we talk about supporting the Roe v. Wade standard, are we saying we support an absolute right to privacy throughout pregnancy as understood in Roe, prior to Planned Parenthood v. Casey?” He asked. “This absolute right to privacy actually allowed abortions in the eighth month, until the child was born.”
Daniel said she felt the resolution was more about the public health aspect of an abortion ban. “What I intend to do here, and what I believe is the responsibility of Dallas County Public Health, is to be aware of the impact this has on the health care of women.”
Koch continued to question whether the resolution meant the county would support late-term abortions, insisting that Daniels delineate whether the county should follow the less restrictive Roe decision or the Casey decision.
Roe v. Wade ruled that a woman’s right to an abortion was included in the right to privacy protected in the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court has said that the choice to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester rests solely with the pregnant person. In the second trimester, the government could regulate, but not prohibit abortion, in order to protect the health of the mother. In the third trimester, the state was allowed to prohibit the abortion of a fetus that could survive outside the womb, except in cases where the woman’s health was at risk.
The 1992 SCOTUS decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey gave states more power to regulate and restrict abortions, including allowing provisions for informed consent, 24-hour waiting periods with information provided on alternatives to abortion, parental consent for minors in most cases, required reports by abortion providers, and freed states to start regulating abortions sooner as long as they do not place an “undue burden” on the pregnant person.
Both laws were struck down by the Supreme Court this summer.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins pointed out that even Roe did not give a woman the right to have an abortion at eight months. “I don’t want to get into a legal argument too much, but I think you’re wrong,” he said. “Roe’s outfit didn’t allow the individual to trump the state in the third quarter.”
“It’s Casey vs. Planned Parenthood,” Koch said, but Daniel claimed he didn’t need to worry about late-term abortions because that wasn’t his resolution. “Why don’t we just put that part of the conversation on hold and look at what we can do as a county,” she said.
Koch said he was interested in finding common ground on the resolution, but he stressed his concerns that late-term abortions were acceptable.
“I want to be clear, I don’t want to say no to this if it’s something I can support. I can support making sure that our employees and citizens of Dallas, when a woman’s life is at stake, when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, when you have severe disabilities incompatible with life, I get in a car and drive that person to Kansas right now, today” , did he declare.
“But if we’re using vague language to support the position that we’re going to allow late-term abortions, which most Americans and most societies consider barbaric, I can’t in good conscience accept that. But if we let’s say, ‘Hey listen, the state of Texas has gone too far…’ The state of Texas has gone too far, we’re in a bad place right now. I’m okay with that.”
Koch, a Republican, is not alone in his opinion, even among members of his own party. A June poll by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that more than 40 percent of respondents believed abortion should be available at any time during pregnancy if the health of the pregnant person is seriously threatened. Almost a third felt it should be allowed at any time if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. A poll taken in February, long before Roe was ousted, found that 43% wanted less restrictive abortion laws.
Although Daniel and District 4 Commissioner Elba Garcia attempted to explain that the wording of the resolution contained nothing illegal, Koch was ultimately the only one to vote “no” on the resolution.
Bethany Erickson is the Senior Digital Editor of Magazine D. She has written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.