News Column

Abortion Bill Passes in Texas

July 15, 2013
Texas Capitol
Texas Capitol (photo: LoneStarMike, Creative Commons)

Texas is a divided state.

The Texas Legislature passed HB 2 -- the controversial abortion bill that caught the attention of the nation when Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered the original bill in regular session. The bill has caused Texans -- including many Huntsville residents -- to take sides, and unleashed a firestorm of responses nationally from both sides.

The bill bans all abortions after 20 weeks and, among other limits, restricts the type of doctors and facilities that can perform abortions.

The Supporters

Republican lawmakers championed the bill as a pro-life victory. Many say that the bill is a protection for the unborn and creates safer environments for women choosing to have an abortion.

Gov. Rick Perry made passing the legislation a top priority, calling a special session of the Legislature with its main purpose to pass the bill. He will sign the law in the next few days.

"Today, the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life," Perry said. "This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health."

The Texas Republican Party celebrated what they consider to be a major victory that makes Texas "a nationwide leader in pro-life legislation." In part, they said a renewed effort by the Democrats to get more of their party elected was shadowed by the events.

"As Democrats continue to talk about their dreams of turning Texas blue, passage of (the bill) is proof that Texans are conservative and organized and we look forward to working with our amazing Republican leadership in the Texas Legislature as they finish the special session strong," a party statement said.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted his support of the bill throughout the night, congratulating the Legislature for its eventual passage.

"Great news: the Texas Senate has finally passed #HB2. Thanks for your #Stand4Life! #txlege," Cruz said on Twitter.

A poll by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune showed that 62 percent of Texans support the post-20-week abortion ban. The poll did not address any other part of the bill, including the restrictions on clinics and doctors.

Supporters argue the bill increases the standard of care for women. The bill requires all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges and be done in a certified ambulatory surgical center, which they say make women safer than procedures done in state-inspected abortion clinics not surgery-certified. Admitting privileges, proponents say, is a signifier that the doctor is qualified.

They also argue that after 20 weeks a fetus can feel pain, an assertion that is disputed by peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Another portion of the bill requires women to take abortion-inducing medication to be taken in the presence of a doctor. Supporters argue that because the original instructions for abortion-inducing medications called for them to be taken in the presence of a doctor, it should be required by law.

New Waverly resident Jessica Frazier Vaughn reflected the opinions of many conservative lawmakers in a comment on a Huntsville Item Facebook post.

"I don't see how it is a shame to protect unborn babies and their mothers," Vaughn said. "If a women really wants an abortion don't you think that they would go where ever they needed to. I also do not see why an abortion clinic needs to be in a convenient location. Let us ensure that women no matter what their decisions are receive medical care that they deserve."

Huntsville resident Tara Burnett in the same post supported the more stringent standards abortion clinics and doctors are now required to follow.

"It's insuring that all facilities and doctors are licensed and meeting standards," Burnett said. "What rights of a woman does that take away?"

The Opponents

Democratic Texas lawmakers stood in opposition of the bill since day one. The most famous, Sen. Wendy Davis, stood for nearly 13 hours to filibuster the bill during regular session in June, which failed.

However, this time the sheer number of Republicans overwhelmed the Democrats in both legislative chambers. More than 2,000 individuals packed the Capitol building, most were against the bill. Many opponents of the bill used #StandWithTexasWomen in tweets and Facebook posts as a sign of support.

The main criticisms of the bill from Democratic lawmakers lie in the limits on practice and 20-week ban.

They argue the 20-week ban is scientifically unfounded and violates the U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1974, Roe v. Wade.

"There will be a lawsuit. I promise you," Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) said on the Senate floor.

In the decision, the Court ruled women have the right to have abortions before the child is viable outside of the womb, or between 22 to 24 weeks. Federal courts across the nation have already struck down similar measures in other states.

Republican lawmakers brought in several doctors who said the ability to feel pain was possible at the 20-week mark, but that has been heavily disputed by medical journals across the nation. The Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology all voiced opposition to the bill.

Chris Webb Black Edwards said the opposition by the medical groups highlights the partisan divide.

"TMA, THA and the AMA are against the bill," he said. "This has nothing to do with making it safer. It is all politically motivated and in the long run will hurt women."

Diann Vandivort said the strict regulations would limit availability to those who need it.

"The 'standards' will force all but (five) clinics to close," she said. "A lot of women cannot afford to travel 9 hours."

The limitations on practice would force 37 of 42 state abortion clinics to close. The five remaining would be in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and two in Houston. Those, according to Associated Press reports, may even be endangered due to other requirements on the facility's structure.

The mass reduction in number of clinics would, at current demand according to the Huffington Post, would increase the number of patients a doctor would need to see to more than 40 a day. Opponents of the bill argue this would increase waiting time for appointments and could possibly make women wait past the 20-week mark.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Washington-based firm, released a poll that more clearly asked respondents about a bill similar to the one passed. The results showed 52 percent of respondents opposed the bill. That poll, however, has come under fire from fact-checking organizations like PolitiFact for a number of questions that prompted respondents to certain ideas.

Cecile Richards, the daughter of former Gov. Anne Richards and president of Planned Parenthood, said in a press conference moments before the final vote that Texas Republicans may face trouble in the upcoming elections.

"All they have done is built a committed group of people across this state who are outraged about the treatment of women and the lengths to which this Legislature will go to take women's health care away," she said.

Because of her now-famous filibuster, Sen. Davis has hinted at a possible run for the Texas governorship in the 2014 election. She will likely face either Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott or the Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who incidentally was the chair of the Senate during the abortion debates.

Democrats have not won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994, the longest such losing streak in the nation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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