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TX House OKs Bill to Remove Officials Who Refuse to Prosecute Abortion Providers

The bill aims to force left-leaning prosecutors to prosecute abortions — or risk being replaced by an Abbott appointee.

Texas state representatives bow their heads in prayer in the House chamber during an invocation at the start of the 87th Legislature's special session at the State Capitol on July 8, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

On Thursday, the Texas House advanced a bill that would allow elected prosecutors to be removed from office if they refuse to prosecute cases related to the state’s near-total abortion ban or the right’s voter suppression efforts — forcing officials either to prosecute health providers or risk removal.

The bill advanced 92 to 55, with several Democrats joining Republicans in voting “yes,” and is expected to be passed officially on Friday and sent to the state Senate. The Republican-sponsored HB 17 directly targets elected prosecutors in left-leaning areas who have said that they will not enforce the state’s draconian abortion law, which bans abortion past 6 weeks, before the vast majority of people know that they’re pregnant.

Currently, elected prosecutors can only be removed through a narrow set of guidelines regarding “incompetency, official misconduct or intoxication.” HB 17 expands those guidelines by making “official misconduct” include “categorically refusing to prosecute specific criminal offenses under state law.” Anyone who has lived in the county or district represented by the prosecutor for at least six months can file a removal petition, which would go to court if advanced.

Once a prosecutor is removed, far right Gov. Greg Abbott would then appoint a successor until the next election cycle. This could mean that left-leaning prosecutors would either be forced to prosecute abortion providers against their will or risk being replaced by a right-wing prosecutor.

Targeting left-leaning prosecutors’ agency is a dangerous and emerging strategy for the GOP as it seeks to seize total control in states and across the country.

Prosecutors are extremely powerful figures within the criminal legal system. They have wide authority over what cases they decide to pursue, with the power to widen racial disparities in the criminal legal system and advance criminalization in their regions — or the power to advance anti-carceral causes by choosing to not pursue certain “crimes.”

The disparity between left- and right-leaning prosecutors has been especially prominent in recent years as conservatives fear monger about petty crime and pass restrictions to people’s fundamental rights and as, on the opposing side, the prison industrial complex abolitionist movement has grown in popularity. Decisions like whether or not to charge people for things like petty theft or drug possession or, in this case, so-called election crimes and basic reproductive care, can majorly shape the region that a prosecutor represents.

It is very clear what Texans are saying: They want to choose who their district attorney is,” said state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D) on the House floor on Thursday, referring to a hearing earlier this month where many people spoke up against the bill, per the Texas Tribune. “What they don’t want is a grandstanding legislator to say ‘no, we are not going to allow you to have this … voice.’”

HB 17 is just one of several bills targeting “rogue” officials being considered in Texas and in other states, with another bill, SB 20, passing the Senate earlier this month.

The bill restricting the agency of the judicial system comes as conservatives and the Supreme Court are protecting corrupt Supreme Court justices in the name of supposed “separation of powers” — a principle that conservatives seem to only apply when it is right wing interests being protected.

It also comes as Republicans across the country are seeking to stifle dissent in other ways, voting to remove elected officials or bar them from being able to participate in the legislative process for voicing their opposition to GOP proposals, as in Tennessee and Montana this month.

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