Attorney General Ken Paxton has urged state legislative leaders to press for stronger abortion restrictions as well as laws allowing businesses and government workers to refuse to serve gay couples who seek to marry.
Saying many Texans fear that their values are under assault, Paxton asked fellow Republicans Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to lay the groundwork for a 2017 legislative session that would “recognize that every human life, including unborn babies, has the right to live.”
“Moreover, human dignity requires that a person be free to exercise his or her religious faith and that no government will discriminate or oppress a person based on the person’s thoughts or beliefs,” he said in identical letters to Patrick and Straus that were dated Wednesday and publicly released Thursday.
Civil liberties and abortion rights advocates accused Paxton of political posturing by offering shortsighted solutions to problems that do not exist.
“Freedom of religion does not give people a license to discriminate or to exempt themselves from laws that protect everyone,” said Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network.
Since becoming attorney general 10 months ago, Paxton has found a new outlet for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage that was evident during 12 years in the Texas House and Senate. As the state’s top lawyer, he has pursued court cases, penned legal briefs, addressed rallies, testified at the Capitol and directed an ongoing investigation into allegations of improper donations of fetal tissue.
In his letters to Straus and Patrick, Paxton asked them to direct House and Senate committees to focus on:
- Banning abortions earlier than the current 20-week limit.
- More tightly regulate the “sale, donation and use” of fetal body parts after an abortion, and require fetal remains to be treated with the same dignity afforded to bodies of adults.
- Require abortion clinics to report pregnancies of women aged 16 and younger to law enforcement “as a potential sexual assault.”
- Require doctors to report the steps taken during every abortion.
- Allow religious organizations to follow their beliefs on hiring and housing decisions, protect religious beliefs of counselors and bar tax assessors from revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions.
- Make anti-discrimination laws uniform statewide, a move that could jeopardize city and county ordinances that protect gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.
On gay marriage, Paxton wanted to allow judges to refuse to marry same-sex couples and small businesses to refuse to provide goods and services for gay weddings. The state should not “trample the religious liberties” of government workers who oppose gay marriage, he added.
Also Thursday, Patrick gave several dozen directives to three committees, including a request that the Senate State Affairs Committee study ways to protect religious freedom and “ensure that the government does not force individuals, organizations or businesses to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Paxton praised the move.
Miller said Paxton’s suggestions would open the door to widespread discrimination. “What the attorney general is suggesting ignores the critical balance between the free exercise of religion for some and the right to live freely for others,” she said.
Heather Busby, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said Paxton was seeking to step between women and their doctors.
“He’ll stop at nothing to make safe abortion care out of reach for anyone who cannot afford to leave the state, and he does not care about how that impacts women,” Busby said.