Commentary Abortion

Losing My Lege: Lawmakers Pitched 32 New Abortion Bills in Texas This Year, and a Few Might Pass

Andrea Grimes

There are 30 days left in the regular session and a total of 32 filed bills dealing with the subject of abortion—most, but not all, of which would make comprehensive reproductive health care more costly and difficult to access.

Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature.

If Texas lawmakers wanted to take up one abortion-related bill per day in the time left in the regular legislative session, they could do it, although they’d have to double up a couple of times.

There are 30 days left in the regular session and a total of 32 filed bills dealing with the subject of abortionmost, but not all, of which would make comprehensive reproductive health care more costly and difficult to access. That’s the second-highest number of abortion-related legislation filed in regular sessions over the last decade—just two fewer than the 2011 regular legislative session, when lawmakers proposed 34 abortion-related bills and succeeded in passing Texas’ mandatory sonogram law. (Regular sessions run for 140 days from January through May, while special sessions are called by the governor during the summer to address legislation that lawmakers failed to pass earlier in the year. You’ll recall that Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, was passed in a special summer session.)

Any one of those 32 bills could, conceivably, be passed in the next 30 days. The legislative process can be lengthy, but it needn’t be. And as we’ve seen with prior abortion-related legislation: If anti-choice lawmakers really put their minds to it, they can strip Texans of their reproductive rights quite quickly.

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The abortion-related bill with the best chance of passing is actually one that doesn’t do much, if anything, to restrict access to legal care for Texans. It’s SB 114, and it’s the only abortion-related bill to have crossed chambers—that is, it was passed by the senate, and now it’s made it all the way over to the house, where it’s been referred to a committee there. That referral is just the very first step, and it doesn’t guarantee a public hearing.

SB 114 relates to “adverse licensing,” and basically says that the state health officials can deny someone a license for an abortion clinic (or a birthing center, or a drug treatment program, or several other kinds of licensed facilities) if, in the past, they have had their license to run one of those other kinds of facilities revoked. In theory, it might create a hassle for someone who wanted to open an abortion clinic after they’d already had a license for a nursing home pulled, but it’s small potatoes in the grand scheme.

The bill that’s made the second most progress so far is SB 575, sponsored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which would ban coverage for abortion care in health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). SB 575 has made it out of a senate committee and is scheduled on what’s called the “intent calendar” for Monday—which means lawmakers will debate it on the floor.

Versions of this bill have cropped up in the past few sessions, and the time is ripe for the Texas GOP to use this session to brag (again, which they do all the damn time) that they’re going to end taxpayer funding for abortion care (a thing they have already done). They hate the ACA anyway (it did, after all, significantly reduce the number of uninsured Texans, which means it’s obviously the absolute worst), so this bill has real potential. They’re basically saying that anybody who gets an abortion with the insurance they’ve purchased with their own money, for themselves, is forcing other folks to pay for their abortions because those folks also bought insurance and contributed to the same pool of money in the marketplace.

Yes, it is already illegal, in Texas, for public funds to be used for abortion care and no taxpayer funding for abortion care happens in Texas in the first place, but I’m just saying what they’re saying, here. Of course, the real deal is that anti-choice lawmakers don’t want people to get abortions ever for any reason and in fact would like to make it illegal and wholly overturn Roe v. Wade and keep everybody barefoot, pregnant, and fracking, but since they can’t do that, they will do literally anything to make abortion hard as hell to access.

Following those two, there’s HB 416, which requires abortion providers and anyone who works or volunteers with them that has contact with patients to take human trafficking education courses, and HB 635, which requires hospitals to release fetal remains to patients who request those remains. They’ve both been voted out of their issues-based committees and into the Calendars Committee, where our scheduling overlords have set them for floor debates next week.

Then there’s HB 723, which would basically end access to legal abortion care for abused and abandoned minors who need judicial bypasses to get abortions without a parent’s consent. It’s been sent to calendars but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a reading on the floor.

Sponsored by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), HB 723 would have a direct and dire impact on teenage Texans who need abortion care but whose parents are not, for a variety of not-great reasons, available to consent to their teen’s abortion care—these parents might be in jail, or they’ve skipped town, or they’re dead, or they may be violent or abusive to the extent that a minor could be in danger if they told their parent they needed an abortion. A couple hundred teens use the judicial bypass process in Texas every year, usually with the help of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit legal aid organization.

King’s bill would raise the burden of proof for teens who need abortion care. Instead of proving just one tenet, they would have to prove all three of these: that they are “mature and sufficiently well informed” about their abortion decision, that notification of a parent would not be in the minor’s best interest, or that parental notification “may lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.”

King said, during testimony on the bill, that he would take out that language that forces teens to prove all three of those tenets, because it would basically be patently unconstitutional to place that level of burden on a teen, but he didn’t actually follow up on his word and do it, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

There’s a four-way tie for fourth place among bills that have been passed favorably out of committee but not yet sent to calendars: another “adverse licensing” bill, another abortion insurance ban, another bill making it harder for minors to access judicial bypass, and a bill that would mandate some signage in abortion facilities.

Guess what? There’s a five-way tie for fifth place. Five bills have been heard, but not voted on (“left pending”) in committee. They’re SB 1873 (mandated trafficking training for abortion providers), HB 3765 (would require notarized parental consent for minors who need abortions), then HB 1648 (an “anti-coercion” bill), and HB 832 (increasing reporting requirements for physicians who provide abortion care). And, at long last, there’s HB 708, a bill that doesn’t restrict abortion access at all but which requires that abortion-seeking Texans be given scientifically and medically accurate information about abortion care, and strikes the requirement that Texas doctors tell their patients (falsely! wrongly! not a thing!) that abortion causes breast cancer.

In sixth place, a bill that would publicize the names of judges that grant judicial bypasses to minors who need abortions was, once upon a time in April, scheduled for a public hearing but was withdrawn from the agenda before it actually got heard.

Whew. Okay. Well, we’ve still got 17 more bills to go—all of which were referred to their respective committees but not yet scheduled for public hearing there, and many of which are companion-type bills to other legislation in their opposite chamber. This list includes the four remaining “good” abortion bills. There’s SB 730, which would allow abortion providers who meet Medicare-determined operating standards (standards far less strict than HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law, requires), to open or reopen in Texas, effectively invalidating parts of HB 2. There’s also HB 709, which repeals Texas’ mandated 24-hour pre-abortion waiting period, HB 1210, which would exempt physicians from penalties if they fail to comply with abortion restrictions that go against their best medical judgment, and SB 1395, which would strike that mandated breast-cancer-causes-abortion language from pre-abortion medical counseling sessions in Texas.

The rest:

  • HB 113, a sex-selective abortion ban
  • HB 205, bans abortion providers or affiliates from teaching sex education in public schools
  • HB 1435, a ban on insurance coverage for abortion care
  • HB 1976, bans abortion care after 20 weeks for people who have non-viable pregnancies
  • HB 2531, requires “positive proof of age” for anyone seeking an abortion in Texas
  • HB 3447, prevents the state health department from allowing any exceptions to existing ambulatory surgical center regulations
  • SB 447, bans abortion providers or affiliates from teaching sex education in public schools
  • SB 831, an “anti-coercion” bill
  • SB 1564, requires “positive proof of age” for Texans seeking abortion care
  • SB 1869, creates pre-abortion “resource awareness” sessions about adoption and crisis pregnancy centers
  • SB 1872, a ban on insurance coverage for abortion care
  • HJR 126, puts a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in November asking Texans to vote to prohibit abortion “to the fullest extent authorized under federal constitutional law as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.”

And then there’s my all-time favorite, SB 1870, from longtime Rio Grande Valley’s Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., which requires literally all state agencies to operate under the belief that “life begins at conception.”

Heads up, Texas Lottery Commission—maybe y’all can replace the numbered balls in the lottery drawing with those little plastic fetuses they pass out at crisis pregnancy centers.

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