Texas Senate Republicans Go on Anti-Choice Spree

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Texas Senate Republicans Go on Anti-Choice Spree

Teddy Wilson

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said the Texas GOP has continued to attack reproductive rights and the doctor-patient relationship.

The GOP-dominated Texas legislature has shifted focus from passing burdensome regulations targeting abortion providers to advancing bans on abortion care procedures.

Lawmakers in the state senate have passed a handful of anti-choice bills in the past few weeks, though it’s unclear if the measures will be taken up in the house, as the chambers have been in conflict over priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

SB 415, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would prohibit a so-called dismemberment abortion unless the procedure is, in the bill’s words, “necessary in a medical emergency.” The bill targets the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure commonly used for miscarriages and abortion care after 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that the Texas GOP has continued to attack reproductive rights and the doctor-patient relationship. 

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“SB 415 is a thinly-veiled attempt to ban abortion, shame Texans who have abortions, and criminalize the safe practice of medicine,” Busby said. “Politicians should leave the practice of medicine to physicians.”

The state senate passed SB 415 on Monday in a 21-9 vote; the vote was mostly along party lines, with state Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) joining Republicans in voting for passage. The bill awaits action by the state house.

Similar bills have been introduced in several states. They are copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-choice legislation mill.

SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), would prohibit doctors from performing the intact dilation and evacuation (D and X) abortion procedure, referred to in the bill by the non-medical terminology of “partial-birth abortion.” The D and X abortion procedure, however, is already prohibited by federal law. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed by Congress in 2003 and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision.

SB 8 would also ban the sale of fetal tissue, which is already prohibited by federal law, and would impose new regulations and restrictions on the donation of fetal tissue. The bill states that a facility “may not donate human fetal tissue, placenta, or an umbilical cord that is obtained from an elective abortion,” though the bill does not define what constitutes an “elective abortion.”

An amendment was offered by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) that would allow fetal tissue from an “elective abortion” to be donated if the pregnant person “requests that the fetal tissue be donated for use in research.” The amendment was rejected by the senate.

The senate passed SB 8 in a 24-6 vote. Four Democrats joined Republicans in voting in favor of the bill, which now awaits further action by the house.

State Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) entered a statement into the legislative record opposing the bill, criticizing the sponsor’s use of debunked videos by an anti-choice front group as justification for restrictions on fetal tissue donation.  

“We cannot afford to let a visceral response to sensationalized, discredited videos lead us into policy that places an undue burden on women, and compromises their health care,” Rodríguez said.

The senate also voted to pass a pair of bills this week that would restrict insurance coverage of abortion care and allow doctors to lie to patients by withholding information about a pregnancy.

SB 20, sponsored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), would prohibit a qualified health plan offered through a health benefit exchange, as administered by the federal government or created under the Affordable Care Act, from providing coverage for an abortion unless the abortion is performed due to a medical emergency.

The Texas Senate voted 19 to 10 along party lines to pass SB 20, and the bill awaits a final procedural vote before being sent to the state house.

SB 25, sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), would outlaw “wrongful birth” lawsuits, in which parents sue their doctor for withholding information about potential fetal anomalies that would have led them to terminate a pregnancy rather than carry the pregnancy to term.

The senate on Tuesday voted 21 to 9 along party lines to pass SB 25. The measure now heads to the house.