Texas right-wing groups sparred over language in a messily drafted anti-abortion bill on Wednesday, with measures limiting access to abortion care and putting more restrictions on abortion providers gaining steam as the end of the regular legislative session draws near.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) said that HB 1648 is intended to address “coercion” in abortion care. It requires abortion providers to place large signs about trafficking and coercion, in English and in Spanish, in public and private areas of their clinics. It also triggers law enforcement investigations into any situation where a doctor is “made aware that the woman has indicated that she is being coerced or forced to have or seek an abortion.” The language prompted concerns from reproductive rights supporters that the bill might allow strangers to make anonymous complaints to clinics to prevent someone else from obtaining an abortion.
At least two anti-choice groups, Texas Right to Life and the Texas Homeschool Coalition, appear to have been involved in writing HB 1648, which State Affairs Committee Chair Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) said would need the eyes of some “really good legal folks” before it could pass muster. A representative from the Texas Alliance for Life, which has previously clashed with Texas Right to Life over legislation concerning end-of-life care, called White’s bill “very complicated and not terribly well drafted.”
White told the committee that her “expertise is in abortion recovery.” She said that her parents coerced her into having an abortion when she was a teenager, and that this bill was intended to help people who might be in similar situations. As filed, the bill requires abortion providers to wait at least 72 hours and for the conclusion of a law enforcement investigation—rather than the state-mandated 24-hour waiting period for most Texas abortion patients—before performing an abortion if they have reason to believe the patient is being coerced.
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A representative from Whole Woman’s Health, a group of abortion providers with locations in Texas, Minnesota, and Maryland, testified during the hearing that the bill “perpetuates widely debunked and dangerous myths about abortion” and said that abortion providers already screen patients closely for signs of coercion.
Some anti-choice groups expressed concerns that the bill’s law enforcement-related provisions could put some abortion patients in danger. A representative from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which works with sex trafficking survivors, testified neutrally on the bill, and said that requiring providers to adhere to longer pre-abortion waiting periods for suspected coercion cases could tip off human traffickers and “unintentionally endanger” some patients.
White said that she would work on the language in the bill, which was left pending in committee.