In conjunction with the 2017 Pro-Life Scorecard for the Regular and Special Sessions of the 85th Texas Legislature, Texas Right to Life published a 2017 Pro-Life Heroes list and a 2017 Disappointments List, highlighting specific legislators. This article is part of an ongoing series to explain how specific elected officials earned the title as a Pro-Life Hero or a Disappointment.
John Zerwas, MD, (R-Richmond), Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, earned an 82% on Texas Right to Life’s Pro-Life Scorecard for the 2017 Sessions of 85th Legislature. The House Committee on Appropriations writes the budget for the state, and as chairman of this committee, Zerwas had countless opportunities to promote the Pro-Life movement in Texas – opportunities he intentionally squandered. His refusal to lead on Pro-Life policies, his active opposition to Pro-Life budget amendments, and his absence on a key vote during the regular session, earned him a spot on Texas Right to Life’s 2017 Disappointments List.
In his role as Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, Zerwas refused all attempts in committee to increase funding to Pro-Life programs already in the state budget. Zerwas also went out of his way to register a no vote on several Pro-Life amendments to Senate Bill 1, the state’s budget for the 2018-2019 biennium. These were amendments that did not reach the House floor, but members could register their position on these measures in the Journal of the Texas House. For this deliberate act of registering against these Life-saving provisions, Zerwas earned penalties against his final score on the Pro-Life Scorecard. Many anti-Life Democrat members of the Texas House did not even go so far as to take this additional action of registering an anti-Life position in the Journal.
During the regular session, while Texas House members debated Senate Bill 8 on the floor, Zerwas was absent for every vote because of a committee meeting. During this debate the most critical and important Pro-Life votes of the session occurred. Because of an insidious loophole, current Texas Pro-Life laws do not protect unborn children with disabilities from late abortions, the point of development when these precious babies can feel the torturous pain of the procedure. The state protects all other unborn children from abortion after 20 weeks. But due to liberal leadership in the Texas House to whom Zerwas is beholden, this gaping loophole is Texas law.
Representative Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) offered an amendment to Senate Bill 8 that would have closed this unjust loophole. The anti-Life Democrats and Straus’s henchman, Byron Cook, opposed protecting unborn children with disabilities from discriminatory late abortions. The motion to table the Schaefer amendment succeeded, stopping this life-saving amendment from consideration. Zerwas was not present for the vote and did not even record a position on this vote. On an identical amendment offered in 2015 on HB 2510, Zerwas voted against protecting these preborn children suspected to have a disability. Thus, Zerwas’s history indicates that he was in lock-step with leadership, leaving preborn babies with disabilities as prey in Texas.
Since anti-Life Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) declared his intention not to seek re-election, John Zerwas entered his name as candidate for Speaker. However, a state as Pro-Life as Texas needs an uncompromising leader. While Zerwas was at the helm of the state budget, he failed to direct funding toward Life-affirming policies and opposed strong Pro-Life efforts. Texas needs a Speaker of the Texas House who will listen to the will of the members and advance Pro-Life legislation accordingly. Zerwas’s disappointing record demonstrates that he is more interested in politics and power than promoting Life.
Texas Right to Life has published Zerwas’ s full scorecard, see commentary on how he voted on each individual Pro-Life public vote scored by Texas Right to Life.