Abortion Bill passes Texas Legislature

Todd Wiseman, The Texas Tribune
Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 10:34am

Updated, Saturday, July 13, 12:10 a.m. 

After impassioned, often personal speeches from lawmakers in both parties noting the emotions that have followed House Bill 2 through the legislative process, the Texas Senate approved the omnibus abortion measure late Friday night.

The measure restricting abortions in Texas is now headed to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk, having passed as thousands of protesters who opposed the measure chanted in and around the Capitol. The crowd outside the chamber erupted after HB 2 passed with a vote of 19-11. But inside, there were none of the eruptions that helped kill the abortion bill in the first special session.

“This is a very difficult, emotional bill that we have dealt with,” said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the sponsor of HB 2.

Democrats offered 20 amendments, ranging from proposals to add exceptions to the bill's 20-week abortion ban for victims of rape and incest to requiring annual inspections of abortion facilities and allowing teen mothers to be excluded from a state law requiring parental consent for family planning services. All were rejected on party-line votes in a debate that lasted until nearly midnight on Friday. 

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who stopped the abortion bill from passing with an hours-long filibuster that ended the first special session, spoke against the bill briefly on Friday.

“We all believe in the beauty and the wonder of human life,” she said.

Alluding to Democrats’ hope that the passion from opponents of the abortion legislation translates into votes at the ballot box in the coming election cycle, Davis said, “The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.”

Chants and cheers from a massive crowd gathered outside of the chamber in the rotunda were constantly audible in the Senate, echoing the boisterous conclusion of the first special session. But the audience observing from the packed gallery remained quiet and orderly, with a few exceptions, throughout the proceedings. When lawmakers finished voting on proposed amendments, a small group of women attempted to chain themselves to the gallery's railings, singing softly to the tune of "Give Peace a Chance." Texas Department of Public Safety officers quickly arrived, but not before one of them secured herself to the railing. At two other points during closing speeches, protesters shouted from above, only to be promptly removed by the DPS.

Many senators offered stories from their own lives as they explained their position on the legislation. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said that when his mother was pregnant with him, she contracted rubella and was advised to get an abortion.

"I thank God that my parents walked out of that doctor's office and never looked back," he said. 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, said that she will "always be pro-life," but that she would vote against the bill because its provisions would do nothing to reduce unintended pregnancies or abortions.

"The lines between pro-choicers and pro-lifers are not as clear-cut as some people think, or wish they were," she said.

As Democrats cautioned about the measure's consequences for women faced with unwanted pregnancies, many Republicans emphasized the importance of preventing abortions after 20 weeks. 

"It's about taking the life of an innocent baby," said Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. "What choice does the baby have? Who speaks for the baby?" 

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she agreed with Democrats who have argued that the state should invest more in women's health programs.

"We need to do a better job in the area of prevention, we must invest in family planning, we need to make sure that abortion is not used as a family planning method," she said, adding that the Legislature's cuts to women's health and family planning "were too deep" in 2011.

She asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to appoint an interim committee to study the subject, which he agreed to do from the dais.

A suggestion from Patrick that senators who voted for the legislation were "listening a little closer" to God than those who opposed it prompted a heated response from Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who told his colleague he had crossed the line. 

"Don't question the faith of any member," he said. 

After the final vote, Dewhurst appeared tearful as he called on the senators and activists for and against the legislation to come together despite the differences that have separated them in recent weeks.

He said he prayed for them “not to forget to love each other as Christ loved the church and as we love all those unborn babies.”

Updated, 6:15 p.m.:

After several hours of critical questioning from Democratic senators on Friday, debate on House Bill 2 came to a brief standstill when Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, raised the possibility of a procedural violation that would stall the Senate's consideration of the bill.

He said that lawmakers could have broken a rule against holding a committee meeting while the chamber was still in session. After a consultation at the dais with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and several other senators, West agreed to withdraw his objection for the time being to allow the debate to continue. 

Since Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, brought the bill to the floor just before 3 p.m., he has fielded lengthy inquiries from Democratic colleagues about its provisions. Previewing amendments they planned to offer, several asked him to consider revising the bill to only include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and scrap the new regulations like requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and to perform the procedure in ambulatory surgical centers that would shutter most abortion clinics in the state.

Hegar said that he would not accept any amendments to his legislation, which prompted Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, to say the bill was more about politics than making good policy.

"It just amazes me, the close-mindedness of some groups, that are in support of this legislation," Whitmire said.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, asked Hegar how requiring clinics to upgrade to surgical centers, which would involve providing male locker rooms, wider hallways and janitor closets, would improve women's health care.

Hegar replied that such regulations would ensure women would have the highest standard of care in the event of a "traumatic incident" or complication. 

Another provision of the bill, which requires doctors to administer the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 in person, rather than allowing the woman to take a second dosage at home, came under fire from Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. She pointed out that under HB 2 and a sonogram law passed in 2011, a woman would have to have four separate visits to the doctor if she took the drug. 

"Thinking that requiring the doctor to see her in person is somehow allowing the doctor to be more available to her, it doesn't make any logical sense," Davis said.

When people were entering the gallery ahead of the Senate’s hearing, Department of Public Safety officials were initially prohibiting people from bringing feminine hygiene products like feminine pads and tampons into the gallery.

DPS officials has been searching bags before letting people into the gallery, requiring them to throw away paper goods such as magazines, receipts, feminine pads and tampons. One DPS officer said authorities had been instructed by the Senate's sergeant at arms to confiscate anything that could be thrown from the gallery at senators on the floor. She said they had already found objects such as bricks, paint and glitter in bags. 

Senate rules ban food, drink and some other objects from the gallery.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he spoke with the sergeant-at-arms after hearing about the "ridiculous" prohibition. DPS officers then received instructions from their supervisor to let people bring in pads and tampons. 

DPS officials confiscated one jar they suspected had urine and 18 jars they suspected had feces while searching bags of people entering the gallery, the department confirmed in a press release Friday afternoon.

Rumors had persisted earlier Friday that some protesters had tried to bring such containers into the gallery, but DPS officers outside the gallery said they had no knowledge of such attempts at the time.

The DPS issued a press release on what it had found so far:

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today received information that individuals planned to use a variety of items or props to disrupt legislative proceedings at the Texas Capitol.

Therefore for safety purposes, DPS recommended to the Texas Senate that all bags be inspected prior to allowing individuals to enter the Senate gallery, which the Texas Senate authorized.

During these inspections, DPS officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint. All of these items – as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals – were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery.

In the interest of the safety and security of Texas legislators and the general public, these inspections will continue until the conclusion of Senate business.

Original story:

The Texas Legislature's debate on some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country will reach its peak on Friday, when the Senate takes up the measure for a final vote. If the Republican-led upper chamber can avoid the last-minute drama that torpedoed the bill last month, the measure will be sent to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

In June, the last time the abortion regulations in House Bill 2 were considered in the Senate, thousands of protesters stormed the Capitol to watch state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibuster the measure. In the waning minutes of the last day of that special session — which had been called by Perry in part to address abortion legislation — their reverberating chants and screams prevented Republican senators from passing the bill before a midnight deadline. The next day, Perry called lawmakers back to try again.

The version of the legislation filed in Texas’ second special session, authored by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, and sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, contains four main provisions: It would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and recognize that the state has a compelling interest to protect fetuses from pain; require doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the abortion facility; require doctors to administer the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 in person, rather than allowing the woman to take it at home; and require abortions — including drug-induced ones — to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers. The House gave final approval to the bill on Wednesday.

“The bill speaks for itself. This is a bill that will improve and better protect women’s health,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said at a press conference on Thursday. The regulations in HB 2 will end up saving many babies, he said, "so that families can adopt them and love them and be able to cherish them.”

Opponents of the legislation don’t see it that way. They argue the regulations are a thinly guised attempt to shut down access to abortion and impede women’s constitutional right to obtain the procedure.

Only six of the state’s existing 42 facilities licensed to perform abortions meet the ambulatory surgical center standards required in HB 2. To become an ambulatory surgical center, those facilities would have to make expensive structural upgrades to those clinics, such as widening doorways and setting up pre-operative and post-operative waiting rooms.

(Use this Tribune interactive to see where existing abortion facilities are located, and where Texas women who received abortions between 2006 and 2010 lived.)

Opponents of the bill argue the regulations would have a disproportionately negative effect on poor women and those living more than 50 miles from Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas or Fort Worth — the only cities with abortion facilities that  meet the standards in the bill.

“There’s nothing in this legislation that will close a clinic,” said state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. “That’s up to the clinic. If they want to put profit over a person, that’s up to them.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, a reproductive health provider that offers abortions, told The Texas Tribune in March that it cost $300 per square foot, or more than $1.5 million, to set up the ambulatory surgical center her group operates in San Antonio. It costs $137,000 a month to run the ambulatory surgical center, compared with $90,000 a month to run an abortion clinic, she said. And abortions, which are performed with local anesthesia and without an incision, cost $1,277 on average when performed in an ambulatory surgical center, compared with $540 on average in an abortion clinic, she said.

As the Tribune reported in August, poor women living near the Texas-Mexico border who cannot afford family planning services or the high cost of legal abortions already seek out illegal abortion-inducing drugs. Opponents argue this legislation would exacerbate that problem, and lead more women to seek dangerous “back alley abortions.”

As a majority Republican state, the question is not whether the legislation will be approved, but when. And when it becomes law, Texas will become the eighth state to ban abortion at 20 weeks and the 30th to require abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.

“This is not just happening in Texas, but all across the country in state after state,” Laubenberg said at the end of the House debate on the bill on Tuesday.

“At five months the baby has developed the sensory receptors that it can feel the pain of that abortion,” she added. “That is what gives us the authority and the right to be here, to do this. This is not about politics. This is heartfelt for every member.”

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/07/13/texas-abortion-regulations-debate-nears-climax/.

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