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Columnists

Gunfight at the Not-so-OK Corral

On September 1st, 666 new laws went into effect in Texas. Given the repressive and regressive nature of many of them, the sheer disregard of common decency of others, and the brazen hypocrisy of even more, the symbolism underscoring that 666 is not lost on many.

Notorious for his ban on mask mandates in Texas schools, Texas Governor Greg Abbott doubled down on this policy even as he recovered from COVID himself and as the number of deaths among the unvaccinated increases daily statewide. Though many school districts ignored him and others have taken him to court, arguing, in particular, that his policy puts children with special needs at risk, one of his new laws prohibits vaccine passports in the state because “Texans should have the freedom to go where they want without any limits, restrictions, or requirements.” Perhaps he should have included in the language of this law that “Texans should have the right to infect whomever they encounter with impunity.”

I’ve written elsewhere in these pages about Abbott banning Critical Race Theory from public school curricula, thus creating generations of uninformed, incurious students who will not be able to participate in civic life from an informed perspective. Having rejected the free expansion of Medicare under the Affordable Care Act, Abbott also oversees the highest number of uninsured children in the country. So he’s foreshortening their education, needlessly exposing them to COVID, and limiting their access to health care if they do get sick.

If that’s not enough, he has put everyone at risk with the Constitutional Carry law, which allows Texans over the age of 21 to carry a handgun without a license in Texas. This law removes the requirement of obtaining a state-issued license, and the training and background check that are part of that process, in order to carry a handgun in public. Other gun measures approved this session limit state contracts with corporations that decline to work with the firearm industry; permit hotel guests to bring guns into their rooms; and allow firearm retailers to stay open during a declared disaster. Even though background checks are still required by federal law when purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, Abbott will, nonetheless, sign House Bill 2622, which bars local officials from enforcing federal gun control regulations.

Texans may carry pistols openly or concealed, as long as they are not prohibited from possessing a firearm. When, exactly, during the commission of a crime, a domestic dispute, a drive-by shooting, a road-rage incident, or the exercise of vigilante justice, are we going to learn the status of the individual wielding the gun?

The most egregious bill signed into law this legislative session is the ‘Heartbeat’ bill, which bans abortions as soon as what lawmakers call a fetal heartbeat is detected. Medical and legal experts say the term is misleading because embryos don’t possess a heart at that developmental stage. At six weeks, according to the law, at which time that cluster of cells may be the size of a blueberry, women often do not even know they are pregnant. There is no legal recourse for victims of rape or incest. Only medical emergencies are exempt from the law. I wonder if the mental health of these women counts as an emergency.

In a stunning abdication of responsibility and an astounding display of cowardice, Abbott has relegated the enforcement of this draconian measure to everyday citizens. Any individual can file a civil lawsuit against virtually anyone who helps a pregnant woman obtain an abortion. That includes doctors, clinic staff, and a friend, family member, or Uber driver who drives her to the appointment. Free speech advocates fear that even saying “Plan B” in public could precipitate a lawsuit. Anyone found guilty could have to pay $10,000 in damages. Despite the legal challenges the law inevitably faces, it is currently in effect, and its repercussions have already been felt around the state. The suggestion that other states will incorporate similar vigilante justice elements into their statutes is unnerving.

Clearly, Abbott has launched his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on the backs of his constituents, especially women and children.  He oversees a state in which the penalty for rape is less severe than the penalty for getting an abortion because of rape; where individuals cannot be forced to wear masks or get vaccinated, but they can be forced to carry a baby to term; a state that ranks 50th in baby wellness, clinical care for infants, and uninsured women;  46th in child hunger; 44th in school funding/child; and 43rd in maternal mortality.

Greg Abbott is committed to bringing Texas children into the world. But he is Pro-Birth, not Pro-Life. If he were, he would have secured their futures once they were born.

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