The top state elected officials known or believed to be angling for higher office wasted no time lashing out at a federal judge’s ruling this week that struck down key provisions on Texas’ new abortion sonogram law. But Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott may well use it to their political advantage — to lure anti-abortion voters to the polls, and fuel their fire against so-called “activist” judges.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks — a Republican appointee — issued an injunction on the abortion sonogram law this week, ruling that key elements of the measure — namely, forcing doctors to describe the fetus to the woman ahead of the procedure — violated the First Amendment.
Hot on the presidential trail, Perry, who made the legislation an emergency last session, fired off a statement calling the ruling “a great disappointment to all Texans who stand in defense of life.” Dewhurst, who’s running for U.S. Senate, said it was a “tragic setback for Texans who care deeply about the rights of the unborn.” And Abbott, who’s positioned to be the 2012 front-runner for governor, immediately filed notice that the state would appeal the ruling.
Don’t expect any of them to treat it as a defeat.
To the extent that the ruling gives Republican office-seekers another chance to communicate with anti-abortion voters, it’s a win, said Austin- and Washington, D.C.-based political consultant Matt Mackowiak. This time, Mackowiak said, it can be cast through the lens of courtroom activism, and Perry will have an example to illustrate his calls for judicial term limits.
“This gives Gov. Perry a chance to talk even more about the pro-life issue… from a slightly different perspective,” he said. “It’s not just the relative merits of supporting life, but what his record shows, and that he can say the position is under threat from activist judges.”
Abbott has some of the stoutest anti-abortion credentials in the state. His appellate battle to keep abortion sonogram on the books can only help him in a bid for the governor’s office, Mackowiak said.
“Some people can talk about this as an ephemeral policy issue,” he said. Abbott “can talk about it as, ‘This is how I fought to protect life, and here’s what I’m doing on your behalf.’”
And after all the anticipated rhetoric, the injunction could just be temporary. Legal experts expect the injunction will stand until the appeal is heard in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans, known as reliably conservative.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.