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The Dallas County Commissioners Court Approves Its Own Local Abortion Declaration

The county made it official that it “honors the right of pregnant persons to bodily autonomy and control over their private medical decisions and the protection of the patient-doctor relationship.” But it doesn’t do much else.
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Bret Redman

The Dallas County Commissioners Court on Wednesday voted in favor of a resolution aimed at protecting pregnant people from prosecution should they seek an abortion, citing the right to keep the doctor-patient relationship private.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said in June that he would not prosecute any cases once state law renders the procedure illegal. The commissioners court resolution doesn’t do much, but it does align the body with others across the state that 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 that orders police to consider investigating possible abortions “the lowest possible priority.” It also directed the city manager to not use public resources to create records of pregnancy outcomes or provide information about those outcomes to any other outside agency that may request them.

Dallas, San Antonio, Denton, Waco, El Paso, and Austin have all passed versions of the so-called Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone, or GRACE, Act. Dallas County’s resolution differs because it doesn’t inform any prioritization regarding investigations, instead focusing on the public health implications of banning abortion in every instance, including rape and incest.

The resolution, which was presented by District 1 Commissioner Theresa Daniel, declares that the county “honors the right of pregnant persons to bodily autonomy and control over their private medical decisions and the protection of the patient-doctor relationship.” 

The resolution references Texas’ House Bill 1280, which criminalizes abortions, as well as language in the recently overturned Roe vs. Wade ruling. While it doesn’t implicitly say that the county will not prioritize abortion investigations, it does say that the county “has a responsibility to protect its residents from any violation of their human rights and any prosecution for the free exercise thereof.”

District 2 Commissioner J.J. Koch said he was uneasy about supporting the measure, because he felt it was giving 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 the entire pregnancy as it was understood in Roe, before Planned Parenthood v. Casey?” he asked. “That absolute right to privacy actually allowed for abortions in the eighth month, until the moment the child was born.”

Daniel said she felt that the resolution was more about the public health aspect of an abortion ban. “What I am intending to do here, and what I think is Dallas County’s public health responsibility, is to be aware of the impact this has on women’s healthcare.”

Koch continued to question whether the resolution meant that the county would be supportive of late-term abortions, insisting that Daniels delineate between whether the county should follow the less-restrictive Roe ruling, or the Casey ruling.

Roe vs. 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 declared that choosing to end a pregnancy in the first trimester was solely the purvey of the pregnant person. By the second trimester, the government could regulate, but not ban abortion, in order to protect the mother’s health. In the third trimester, the state was allowed to prohibit aborting a fetus that could survive outside the womb, with the exception of when a woman’s health was in danger.

The 1992 SCOTUS ruling 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 abortion alternatives, parental consent for minors in most cases, required reporting by abortion providers, and freed states to begin regulating abortions earlier as long as it didn’t present an “undue burden” to the pregnant person.

Both laws were overturned by the Supreme Court this summer.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins pointed out that even Roe didn’t give a woman the right to have an abortion at eight months. “I don’t want to get too much into a legal argument, but I think you’re misstating,” he said. “The holding in Roe did not allow the individual to trump the state in the third trimester.”

“It’s Casey vs. Planned Parenthood,” Koch said, but Daniel asserted that he didn’t need to worry about late-term abortions because that wasn’t what her resolution was about. “Why don’t we suspend this part of the conversation and looka what we as a county can do,” she said.

Koch said he was interested in finding common ground on the resolution, but dug his heels in about his concerns that it was OK’ing late term abortions.

“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 a result of rape or incest, when you have severe disabilities that are incompatible with life, I will get in a car and drive that person to Kansas right now, today,” he said.

“But if we’re … using vague language in order to support the position that we’re going to allow late-term abortions, which most Americans and most societies believe is barbaric, I can’t in good conscience go along with that. But if we’re saying, ‘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 agree with that.”

Koch, a Republican, is not alone in his views, even among members of his own party. A June poll conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that more than 40 percent of those surveyed felt that abortion should be available at any time in the pregnancy if the pregnant person’s health was seriously endangered. Almost a third felt that it should be allowed at any time if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. A poll conducted in February, well before Roe was overturned, found that 43 percent wanted less restrictive abortion laws.

Despite both Daniel and District 4 Commissioner Elba Garcia attempting to explain that the language in the resolution didn’t contain anything illegal, Koch was ultimately the sole “no” vote on the resolution.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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