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Texas Republicans Fall Short on Abortion Insurance Ban

Andrea Grimes

Anti-choice legislators, following days of infighting between mainstream Texas Republican lawmakers and Tea Partiers, missed a key Tuesday night deadline to approve a bill that would have banned abortion care coverage in insurance plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act.

Anti-choice legislators, following days of infighting between mainstream Texas Republican lawmakers and Tea Partiers, missed a key Tuesday night deadline to approve a bill that would have banned abortion care coverage in insurance plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives had until midnight to give preliminary approval to SB 575, which would force Texans to purchase supplemental insurance for abortion care coverage outside of a “medical emergency”—effectively asking them to predict, annually, whether they will need an abortion in the next year.

The anti-choice measure would also ban insurance coverage for abortion care under certain insurance plans for state employees, including Texans who work for public universities. The bill does not contain exceptions for rape or incest.

Conflict over SB 575 reached a boiling point Sunday night in the legislature, when volatile Tea Party Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) berated a colleague on the house floor, nearly engaging in fisticuffs, after learning that the influential House Calendars Committee had voted not to place SB 575 up for debate.

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The committee’s surprising bipartisan vote came with three Republican women, including Tea Party Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), voting against scheduling the insurance ban for debate. Riddle later said on Facebook that she “didn’t read it properly” and that her vote against SB 575 was a “mistake.”

Stickland said he’d been promised that SB 575 would be brought up for debate in exchange for Stickland walking back an earlier threat to revive a proposal to ban legal abortion care in cases of life-incompatible fetal anomaly.

After Stickland’s fit of rage on the GOP-controlled house floor, the calendars committee reconvened at Riddle’s insistence, this time without other members who had opposed SB 575, and voted to move the bill forward, scheduling it for a hearing on Tuesday, but behind a number of other high-profile bills.

Bills must be “read” three times in the Texas legislature, with debate typically happening on the second reading. Tuesday was the last day for the Texas house to approve bills on second reading, and Democrats—who number 52 in that chamber to the GOP’s 98—spent the day “chubbing,” or delaying, debate on as many bills as possible to prevent SB 575 from coming up on the floor.

SB 575 wasn’t the only contentious bill Democrats hoped to “chub” into oblivion. GOP leadership had scheduled the abortion insurance ban after two other bills expected to draw lengthy debate: one, a “campus carry” bill allowing college students, professors, and university employees to carry concealed weapons into dorms and classrooms, and the other an ethics reform bill championed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The ethics reform bill ultimately passed, and the campus carry bill looked to be doomed until just before midnight.

Democrats filed dozens of amendments to the campus carry bill to slow it, and the party’s master of parliamentary procedure, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), called a procedural point of order during the gun debate that threatened to take the entire bill down just before midnight. Nevertheless, Republicans gathered enough signatures to bring the bill to a vote and negotiated with Democrats to pass a version of the bill that would have to be sent into a conference committee with the Texas senate to be further ironed out, potentially blocking its passage despite Tuesday’s vote.

SB 575 never made it to the floor, but another anti-choice provision may make it to the governor’s desk: HB 3994, an omnibus bill that places severe restrictions on abused and neglected pregnant minors who seek legal abortion care without parental consent and requires abortion providers to demand government identification from their patients, garnered final approval from anti-choice senators on Wednesday.

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