There’s No Bottom: Texas Professors Sue for Right to Fail Students for Having Abortions

In a new federal legal complaint filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, two professors argue that if students miss school for abortion, they should have the right to fail those students because pregnancy is the result of "voluntary and consensual sexual intercourse.” 

There’s No Bottom: Texas Professors Sue for Right to Fail Students for Having Abortions

For the last two-odd years, abortion bans have blown the door wide open for truly heinous, wide-ranging legislative attacks on pregnant people. The latest barely believable example of this comes from Texas where, in May, two professors at the University of Texas at Austin joined an amended legal complaint first filed in April by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the far-right America First Legal—the filing seeks the right to punish students and prospective teaching assistants for having abortions. 

In their legal complaint, obtained by The New Republic last week, Daniel Bonevac and John Hatfield argue that federal Title IX policies, which prohibit sexual and gender-based discrimination in education, overstep Texas’ “sovereign interest” by not allowing universities to penalize students who take time off for abortion care.

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and elective abortions are not ‘health care,'” Bonevac argues in the federal court filing. (To be clear, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says “elective abortion” isn’t a medical term, and simply stigmatizes the health service, which is essential for anyone who doesn’t wish to be pregnant.) Bonevac further writes that pregnancy is the result of “voluntary and consensual sexual intercourse,” so students shouldn’t be permitted time off from classes to get abortions; if students do so, professors have a right to flunk them. Similarly, the professors argue that they have a right to discriminate against and not hire prospective teaching assistants for having abortions, calling these students “criminals.”

“Plaintiffs Hatfield and Bonevac do not intend to accommodate student absences from class to obtain abortions—including illegal abortions and purely elective abortions that are not medically required. Nor will Plaintiffs Hatfield and Bonevac hire a teaching assistant who has violated the abortion laws of Texas or the federal-law prohibitions on the shipment or receipt of abortion pills and abortion-related paraphernalia,” the complaint states. Somehow, it gets worse: Hatfield writes, “I will certainly accommodate students who are seeking medically necessary abortions in response to a pregnancy that threatens the student’s life or health. But I will not accommodate a purely elective abortion that serves only to kill an unborn child.” He is referring, of course, to an embryo or fetus.

Paxton’s original legal complaint against Title IX primarily centers around the usual, hateful and baseless anti-trans bathroom fearmongering rather than abortion, claiming that Title IX “forces girls in every public school in America to share restrooms, locker rooms, and private facilities with men.” Per the New Republic, Hatfield and Bonevac joined the legal complaint the month after it was filed. Their puritanical griping against sexually active, pregnant-capable students comes at a time when the state of Texas has become ground zero for abortion-related litigation harassment. 

At the same time that two professors in Texas alongside the state’s attorney general are suing for universities to have the right to discriminate against and punish students for having abortions, anti-abortion legal activist Jonathan Mitchell has been wielding Texas’ abortion laws to try to help men threaten and harass ex-partners for alleged out-of-state abortions, which are entirely legal.

For years, anti-abortion activists and Republicans insisted that they only wanted to end Roe v. Wade, that they wanted abortion rights left up to states, and for doctors but not women to be punished. Clearly, that was never true. Educators and the state itself are now going so far as to fight for a right to flunk students who have abortions. And it’s doubtful that Texas anti-abortion leaders will stop there.

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