- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Undeterred by a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down sweeping abortion restrictions that were sold as protecting women’s health, Texas Republicans are pushing new measures pitched as protecting fetuses, with a hopeful eye toward Washington.

New anti-abortion measures are moving through the Legislature - where Democrats are virtually powerless to stop them - and opponents see a shift in GOP strategy after last year’s 5-3 Supreme Court ruling that rejected the state’s claims of trying to safeguard women and dismantled a 2013 law that prompted many of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

A state Senate committee on Wednesday will begin hearing three anti-abortion measures, none of which claim to be aimed at protecting women’s health. And with the Supreme Court apparently set to become more socially conservative under President Donald Trump, Republicans say there is a new opportunity.

“You would be almost remiss and neglectful, in my opinion, not to push that envelope going forward knowing what’s coming up,” Republican state Sen. Charles Perry said.

The newest Texas proposals would toughen regulations on what happens to a fetus both before and after an abortion. Perry’s proposal would mostly ban a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, and is similar to laws that courts have blocked in Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana.

Another bill would require fetal remains to be buried or cremated. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has already ordered that change, but it is on hold pending a federal trial.

A third proposal would ban, among other things, the donation of fetal tissue under a measure Republicans have sought since the release of heavily edited, secretly recorded videos shot inside Planned Parenthood clinics by an anti-abortion group in 2015.



More than four-fifths of school districts offer no sex education or only teach abstinence in Texas, which has one of the country’s highest teen birth rates, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study commissioned by Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning education watchdog group, found that 25 percent of roughly 1,000 school districts statewide didn’t offer any sex education during the 2015-2016 school year and about 58 percent only taught students to abstain from sex.

The remaining 17 percent, including eight of the 10 largest school districts in America’s second most-populous state, stress abstinence, which they are required to do under a 1995 Texas law. But they also teach students about other sexual topics, including birth control.

The 17-percent figure is actually a marked increase from a 2009 study, which found that 96 percent of Texas school districts taught abstinence only.

The number of districts that offer no sex education rose even more dramatically, from 2 percent in the study eight years ago to a quarter of them today. A major factor in districts dropping their sex education curriculums was a 2009 decision by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to scrap passing a health course as a high school graduation requirement.

Of the districts that still teach sex education, 31 percent of the ones in urban areas offer instruction on more than just abstinence, while only about 5 percent of rural districts do.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2014 ranked Texas tied with New Mexico for fourth nationwide in birth rates for mothers ages 15 to 19. Some studies have found that comprehensive sex education that includes birth control information is more effective than abstinence-only programs at reducing teen pregnancy rates.

But 25 other states in addition to Texas require stressing abstinence, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia require students to be taught about contraception.



Musicians Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys along with Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence are among more than 140 artists and celebrities condemning a Texas “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people.

Britney Spears and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel also signed a letter Tuesday criticizing the Republican-backed efforts as a “denial of basic human dignity.” The bill would require people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

It’s similar to a North Carolina law that prompted rockers Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen to cancel concerts in that state last year.

The Texas bill has yet to receive even a preliminary vote but public pressure is ratcheting up. Last week, the NFL suggested that Texas could be passed over for future Super Bowl sites if the proposal became law.



The House reconvenes Wednesday at 10 a.m. and the Senate is in an hour later. Floor workloads remain light as committees begin to work through major bills that will eventually head to each full chamber.



“We are unable to take questions,” Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, who had time to call a press conference Tuesday but apparently not enough time to see if any reporter wanted to clarify anything she’d said.

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