Texas Republicans Are Still Trying to Chip Away at Abortion Rights

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Photo by Francisco Montes
Last session, the GOP-dominated Legislature successfully decimated abortion access across the state. We're still waiting on the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to make a decision on the legal challenge to HB 2, which Wendy Davis famously filibustered before Rick Perry called a second special session to pass the bill, ushering in sweeping restrictions that have already closed more than half of abortion clinics in Texas.

Depending on how things shake out at the Fifth Circuit, there could soon be as few as eight abortion clinics for a state of 27 million people. About one million Texas women would live at least 150 miles away from the nearest abortion provider, effectively cutting off access for poor women who don't live in one of the state's urban areas.

Poor women who want an abortion? Check. Next on the list for Texas Republicans: Cutting off access to vulnerable teenagers and women who seek an abortion under incredibly dire circumstances.

Twice this month committees have heard bills drafted by Republican lawmakers to greatly restrict the process known as judicial bypass, in which minors can petition a judge to get an abortion if either their parents won't consent or if the girls have reason to fear for their safety. Then, in an unexpected move on the House floor Thursday, a Republican lawmaker successfully crammed language into an unrelated bill that would end the exception to the state's ban on abortions after 20 weeks if it's discovered a fetus has severe abnormalities -- medical conditions that aren't typically detected until later in a pregnancy.

For pro-choice advocates, the hits just keep on coming at the Lege. "HB 2 devastated access to safe and legal abortion across the state, but that wasn't enough for the anti-choice zealots in the Texas Legislature," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement earlier this month. "Now they're trying to pile on even more regulations and restrictions that would make access to a safe and legal medical procedure almost impossible for many Texans to obtain."

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USW Members Voting on LyondellBasell Contract Today

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Photo by Max Burkhalter

More than two months in, the United Steelworkers oil refinery strike still isn't technically over, but things could wrap up soon for the USW District 227 workers at LyondellBasell in Pasadena.

USW 227 has been on strike from the start. When USW called the strike on February 1, about 450 union workers at LyondellBasell in Pasadena were part of the first wave to actually go out on strike. By the time the action -- the first significant oil refinery strike in 30 years -- got rolling, more than 6,000 union employees at 15 plants, including 12 refineries, across the country were on strike.

(See also: Crossing the Line: Money, Safety, Power - What Makes a Union Strike at a Bad Time for Oil and Gas?

After so long without a real strike, it's been a learning experience for many of the union members, USW reps say. At LyondellBasell, the employees walked the picket line and tried to wait it out. Those who come from union families know that strikes can last a long time. (The 1980 strike lasted for three months.) While officials with Royal Dutch Shell, negotiating on behalf of the oil companies, and USW, negotiating on behalf of about 30,000 workers, struggled to agree on a national contract, the striking workers were going without paychecks and health insurance.


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Texas Stories That We Wish Were April Fools' Jokes

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...if only this were an April Fools' joke...
You've probably already had your fair share of fake news and bogus announcements today.

The problem is, some of these little lighthearted hoaxes don't seem that far removed from reality. A Republican-authored bill in the Lege requiring "Hymen Inspections"? Totally false (yet somewhat believable). New Land Commissioner George P. Bush's war on comic sans? Probably a joke. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller declaring "cupcake amnesty"? Believe it or not, that one was real.

In that spirit, here are some totally real news stories (or people) we really wish were April Fools' jokes:

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Thousands of Low-Income Women Aren't Getting Cancer Screenings or Birth Control Because Texas Banned Planned Parenthood

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Francisco Montes
A new state report confirms what basically everyone who wasn't a die-hard anti-abortion activist or politician predicted a couple of years ago when Texas lawmakers kicked Planned Parenthood out of its widely successful program for giving uninsured, low-income women cancer screenings and birth control.

According to new numbers out of the state Health and Human Services Commission, critics that said the program would serve a lot less women if it shunned Planned Parenthood's family planning clinics (meaning even more women across the state won't get life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings or birth control) were dead-on right.

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GOP Lawmakers Want to Make It Harder for Minors to Get an Abortion Without a Parent's Consent

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Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion across the country and protecting it as a woman's constitutional right, the high court took up another thorny issue: are pregnant minors afforded that same right?

The 1979 case Bellotti v. Baird challenged a Massachusetts law requiring pregnant minors to get parental consent before obtaining an abortion. In writing the plurality opinion, Justice Lewis Powell explained that the court had to balance two competing interests. Noting the "peculiar vulnerability of children," Powell wrote that the "rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults." However, Powell also said the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy "differs in important ways from other decisions facing minors." While states may reasonably want to ensure that parents are in on the decision, Powell wrote that parents should not be allowed to exercise an "absolute, and possibly arbitrary, veto" over a girl's choice to have an abortion.

The ruling meant a couple of things. First, states could still have parental consent laws on the books if they wanted to (the court refused to extend full abortion rights given to adult women under Roe to minors). But states also had to provide an escape hatch: girls could petition a judge for approval if their parents wouldn't consent or if girls were too afraid to ask them.

Ever since, anti-abortion activists have been trying to restrict that process, known as judicial bypass, and this session there are a slate of bills filed by Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature that would make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for many teenage girls to get an abortion without the approval of a parent.

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Lawmakers Want to End Revenge Porn in Texas

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Thinkstock
A bipartisan group of women in the House and Senate have filed legislation to take down revenge porn, the act of posting naked photos of women for fun or profit.

Holly Toups, who found her 10-year-old photographs on the website Texxxans.com - use your imagination - could be called the poster girl for the movement in Texas. When the website operator told her that her own photos could be removed for a fee of $500, Toups told him he wasn't getting a dime from her.

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The State Killed Cameron Todd Willingham, But His Case Won't Die

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TDCJ
At this point, more than a decade after Cameron Todd Willingham's 2004 execution for the arson deaths of his three young daughters in Corsicana, there's something marrow-deep exhausting about the whole saga. Willingham went to his execution protesting his innocence, and in the years that have followed his death, the case has routinely reappeared in the news cycle with new revelations about either the junk arson science or the key witness used to convict him. The stories just keep coming.

Right now the focus is on the key witness against Willingham, Johnny Webb, and a letter that indicates the lead prosecutor on the case may have made a deal with Webb in exchange for Webb's testimony, according to a new report from the Marshall Project.

For years John Jackson, the lead prosecutor in Willingham's case, insisted that Webb wasn't coached on his testimony and that he got no special treatment or perks of any kind for agreeing to testify against Willingham. Webb ultimately testified that Willingham had confessed to the murders while they were in lockup together. That jailhouse confession, coupled with the "arson science" of the time, eventually led to Willingham's conviction and death sentence.

However, in addition to everything uncovered last year in a story by Maurice Possley, published by the Washington Post and the Marshall Project, a new letter written by Webb has surfaced, Possley now reports.

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DPS Is Super Worried About Glitter Bombs

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Glitter, another thing the DPS is warning about.

Well, glitter bombing has now been deemed both dangerous and a thing that gay rights groups are totally into, according to the powers that be at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Last week, a DPS captain sent out an email to Texas legislators warning that certain nefarious groups have been glitter-bombing certain super-conservative legislators. Apparently, whoever opens the mail at state Rep. Debbie Riddle's Spring office was the latest victim of this sparkly explosion and these bombs have been showing up at the offices of conservative Texas legislators with enough regularity that the DPS felt the need to warn everybody about it.


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Texas Monthly Says What We've All Been Thinking About Chron.com

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Sean Davis via Flickr creative commons

Well, we're glad we aren't the only ones who noticed.

On Wednesday, Texas Monthly called out the Houston Chronicle for a slideshow misfire the paper ran on its free website this week. The slideshow in question was attached to an aggregated story on Lacey Smarr, a Longview teenager who died of complications from an eating disorder about a month ago, and the slideshow was composed of photos pulled from Lacey's Facebook page.

That's right. The Chron illustrated a story about a girl who ultimately died from an eating disorder by slapping up a series of photos so that the "interested reader" could click through and actually see her waste away in one handy-dandy slideshow.

Texas Monthly was fittingly appalled. But this isn't the first time bizarre, tone-deaf content has made its way onto the Chron's free website (you won't find Lacey Smarr-type slideshows on the more tony and paid webpage) or Facebook page.


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USW and Shell Talked. Briefly.

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Photo by Max burkhalter
Lee Medley and the USW District 13-1 union members outside of the USW Hall in Pasadena.

Representatives from United Steelworkers International and Royal Dutch Shell were back at the bargaining table Wednesday and it seems they talked just long enough to decide they'll try this whole talking thing again next week.

That means the strike is definitely going on for another week, at least, which is rough news for those hoping it would be over by now.

The USW oil refinery strike, the first major oil refinery strike in 35 years, started February 1 and the USW members at Shell Deer Park, LyondellBasell and Marathon Texas City were some of the first called to walk out on strike by the national arm of USW. Since then USW has pulled out more than 6,000 workers at 15 plants across the country, including 12 refineries.

USW has been negotiating a national contract that the local union groups will use as guidelines for their contracts with the company. Shell is negotiating on behalf of the oil industry. They've been trying to hammer out a deal since January 21. So far, things haven't gone well.

Meanwhile, the tensions between the strikers and management have been ratcheting up. People have been crossing the picket line at Shell Deer Park since the second week of the strike. Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh says that 20 percent of the 800 union members have come back to work at Shell Deer Park. Lee Medley, president of USW District 13-1 that represents Shell workers, says that the number is closer to around 100. Either way, strikes depend on union members not crossing picket lines, as we've already noted, so this is a pretty big deal to the local union.


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