Friday, October 31st, 2014

Pro-life, pro-choice, pro-truth

Gov. Rick Perry spoke during the Texas Rally for Life on Jan. 22, 2011, at the state Capitol.

Few political issues bring blood to a boil as consistently as abortion. And over the past 13 months, Texas politicians and political groups made numerous statements on the subject that we then put to the Truth-O-Meter.

Most recently, we checked a statement that Republican Gov. Rick Perry made during a speech before fellow abortion opponents during the Jan. 22 Texas Rally to Life at the Texas Capitol. He said that since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which established abortion as a constitutional right, "50 million children have lost their chances." Putting aside his use of the word "children" -- a flash point in the continuing political, moral and scientific national debate over abortion -- we found it True that 50 million abortions have taken place in the United States since 1973, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a respected source for information on issues related to reproductive health.

Abortion was also a frequent topic in the weeks leading up to the January election of the Texas House speaker by members of the 150-person body. Some Republican activists opposed to the re-election of Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said he was not conservative enough to lead a body with a 101-vote Republican majority and questioned whether he was opposed to abortion.

In a Jan. 4 letter, the Heidi Group, a nonprofit organization that has run crisis pregnancy centers in Dallas advising women with unplanned pregnancies about giving birth, said that after the 2009 session, Straus "was acknowledged and ‘thanked’ for his ‘tireless efforts’ by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s premier abortion provider." We rated that statement True after reading in a newsletter of the Planned Parenthood Trust of San Antonio and South Central Texas that the group’s president and CEO, Jeffrey Hons, thanked three legislators attending an Oct. 6, 2009, gathering at a San Antonio home, plus state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Straus, who were both in absentia.

The month before, we checked another statement about Straus and Planned Parenthood. In a Dec. 9 newsletter, retired teacher and conservative education activist Donna Garner said Straus "was co-author of a bill that would have allowed Planned Parenthood to control public school sex education." Our research found that in 2007, Straus was the co-author of an unsuccessful proposal, backed by Planned Parenthood, that would have directed the state to promote family-planning services for low-income women and required school districts that provide sex education to explain the difference in effectiveness between correct and incorrect use of contraceptives.

We rated Garner’s statement Pants on Fire after finding no language in the legislation potentially putting Planned Parenthood in charge of sex education in Texas. Even if it had passed, it would not have changed the state-mandated, pro-abstinence focus of sex education.

We also checked an abortion-related statement during the campaign season leading up to the Nov. 2 election. State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said in an Oct. 4 leaflet that Annie's List, a Texas group dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women, "supports third-trimester abortion on demand." We found that Annie’s List, which gave money to Bohac’s challenger, backs "pro-choice" women. Yet we didn’t find evidence that the group’s "pro-choice" stance included explicit support for third-trimester abortions. Also, we found that in 2010, the group supported Texas House candidates who had voted for additional limits on the procedures. We rated Bohac’s statement False.

Texans in Washington also made abortion-related statements drawing our attention.

On Sept. 27, we rated False a statement in a press release from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that a defense measure in Congress included "language that would require military hospitals to provide abortions on demand." Cornyn was referring to an amendment that would have repealed restrictions on privately-funded abortions in military facilities, allowing them to provide abortions in cases other than the existing permissible instances of rape, incest or when the mother's life is endangered. We concluded that "allowing" is not the same as "requiring" and saw no mandate for military hospitals in the proposed legislative change.

Six months earlier, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, earned a Pants on Fire for saying in a press release that the new federal health care law "provides full federal funding for abortions." The law makes no such provision.

We tested three abortion-related statements before the March party primaries.

Ken Mercer, a Republican member of the State Board of Education seeking re-election, received a Barely True rating after saying in an audio ad that his GOP challenger, Tim Tuggey, "donated over $41,000 to Democrats who support abortion and same-sex marriage." The Republican Party of Texas earned a Pants on Fire for saying in an e-mail that Bill White, who eventually won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, "presided over the construction of what may be the world's largest abortion clinic" when he was mayor of Houston. And Perry scored a Mostly True with his assertion during the Jan. 14, 2010, GOP gubernatorial debate that a primary challenger, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, had "voted to continue Roe v. Wade."

Grouped together, we note, the nine tested statements drew every one of five possible Truth-O-Meter ratings, from True to Pants on Fire. Put another way, we'd advise against assuming any abortion statement is correct until it's checked.