Roe V. Wade: Companies that help employees get abortions could be the next target for Texas lawmakers if the law is repealed

Because Texas is poised to automatically ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court rules Roe v. Wade, some Republicans are already eyeing the next target to fight the procedure: companies who say they help employees get abortions out of state.

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Fourteen Republican members of the state House of Representatives have pledged to introduce legislation in the next term that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for abortions in states where the procedure is legal.

This would specifically prevent companies from providing employees with access to abortion-related care through health insurance benefits. It would also expose executives to criminal prosecution under pre-Roe anti-abortion laws that lawmakers have never repealed, lawmakers say.

Her proposal highlights how the end of abortion would usher in a new phase — not the end — of the fight in Texas over the procedure. Lawmakers, pushing for the business rules, have signaled they intend to take aggressive action in the next legislature. But it remains to be seen if they can win a majority on their side.

The members, led by Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, set out their plans in a letter to Lyft CEO Logan Green released on Wednesday.

SEE RELATED STORY: Gov. Says Arkansas’ Near-Total Abortion Ban Should Be Reviewed If Supreme Court Overturns Roe

Green drew lawmakers’ attention on April 29 when he said on Twitter that the ridesharing service would help pregnant Oklahoma and Texas residents seek abortion treatments in other states. Green also vowed to pay legal costs for any Lyft driver sued under Senate Bill 8, the Texas law that empowers individuals to file lawsuits against anyone who helps obtain an abortion.

“The state of Texas will act swiftly and decisively if you do not immediately rescind your recently announced policy to cover the travel expenses of women who abort their unborn children,” the letter reads.

The letter also establishes other legislative priorities, including allowing Texas shareholders of public companies to sue executives for paying for abortion treatments and empowering prosecutors to prosecute abortion-related crimes outside of their home counties.

Six of the 14 signatories, including Cain, are members of the far-right Texas Freedom Caucus. How much political support these proposals have in the Republican caucus is unclear. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, declined to comment. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott did not respond.

With the legislature more than seven months away, Cain said in an email that “a hastily drafted and sent letter can hardly reflect the pulse of my Republican colleagues.” However, he was confident that his ideas would find support in the Senate.

“Knowing this chamber and its leadership, I’m willing to bet that legislation on this issue will be introduced promptly in January,” Cain said.

SEE RELATED STORY: The Oklahoma Legislature passes an abortion ban and heads to the governor’s desk for the signature

But that would likely mean targeting companies that the state has touted as potential job-creators. Tesla, for example, announced this month that it would cover employees’ travel expenses when they leave the state to have an abortion. Abbott last year celebrated the electric-car company’s move to Austin, and this year called on its CEO, Elon Musk, to also move Twitter’s headquarters to Texas when it completes its purchase of the social media company.

Republican politicians need to be much more cautious about abortion policy if Roe v. Wade is falling, said Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University professor who has written a book on abortion laws in the United States. While lawmakers in the past could enact any number of abortion restrictions that would inevitably have to be struck down by courts, that backstop would no longer exist.

Ziegler said while a broad conservative coalition wants to ban abortion in Texas, there are disagreements about how aggressively criminal laws are being enforced or trying to prevent pregnant residents from leaving the state for the procedure. Republican politicians therefore have an incentive to remain silent on this issue until they can determine what course of action is the most politically prudent.

“It’s not easy being a Republican anymore,” Ziegler said. “Before, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, let’s get rid of Roe v. Wade.’ Well, if you can do whatever you want, what are you going to do?”

Lyft did not respond to a request for comment. Several other large companies, including Amazon, Uber and Starbucks, have also announced they would help employees or clients seek abortion treatments outside of Texas. No one responded to requests for comment.

Concerns from the business community helped thwart a Republican legislature’s push to pass the so-called bathroom bill in the 2017 session, which would have required people to use facilities appropriate to their gender assigned at or about to be born corresponded. Moderate spokesman Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, rejected Patrick’s requests to make the bill a priority.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said that although Straus has since retired, she hopes a coalition of Democrats and centrist Republicans would form to block abortion-related legislation imposing new restrictions on companies.

“There were opportunities for enterprising Republicans and enterprising Democrats to come together and prevent this kind of extreme politics,” Howard said of Straus’ tenure. “I’m confident that will happen again. … We’re at a crucial point here where we’re doing serious damage that will be difficult to undo.”

The Texas Association of Businesses, the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives and the Greater Houston Partnership either declined to comment or did not respond to questions about the abortion restriction proposals in the Republican letter.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Roe V. Wade: Companies that help employees get abortions could be the next target for Texas lawmakers if the law is repealed

Dais Johnston

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