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Texas Republicans Advance Sweeping Abortion Restrictions (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

Legislators admitted "they haven’t consulted with any medical professionals but still chose to play doctor" while passing a host of anti-choice provisions, said Heather Busby of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

UPDATE, May 26, 4:31 p.m.: The Texas state senate on Friday approved final passage of the most sweeping abortion rights restrictions since HB 2. The legislature sends SB 8 to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Texas lawmakers in the Republican-controlled house voted Friday to create the state’s the most sweeping abortion restrictions since the passage of the omnibus anti-choice bill known as HB 2.

After six hours of debate on Friday night, lawmakers passed a bill that would prohibit certain types of abortion procedures, codify state regulations requiring the burial or cremation of fetal tissue as well as banning the sale of fetal tissue, and create additional reporting requirements for physicians who provide abortion care.

The bill combines elements of copycat legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL), anti-choice legislation mills.

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Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that the legislation was a “shameless” attempt by Republicans to “score political points” by restricting women’s reproductive health care.

“Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate out of any developed country, but instead of addressing that, lawmakers are busy wasting time and taxpayer dollars restricting access to abortion and imposing restrictions on health care facilities that have been ruled unconstitutional in federal court,” Busby said.

Lawmakers’ latest attempt to pass abortion restrictions comes less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down portions of HB 2, which cost the state more than $4.5 million in litigation costs.

SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), an omnibus bill originally introduced with a host of abortion restrictions, was further amended Friday night to include other anti-abortion provisions. 

The bill would prohibit a person from donating human fetal tissue, placenta, or an umbilical cord, and would prohibit a person from offering to buy, offering to sell, acquiring, receiving, selling, or otherwise transferring human fetal tissue for money. 

Federal law already regulates the use of fetal tissue, and bans the sale of fetal tissue for profit.

The bill would codify into law regulations adopted by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) that require tissue from abortions and miscarriages to be buried or cremated, and ban facilities that provide abortion services from using standard methods of disposition.

A federal judge in January issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from implementing the regulations.

SB 8 would prohibit physicians 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.” This portion of the bill is based on copycat legislation drafted by AUL.

Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Rewire in November that it is “classic political posturing” for lawmakers to introduce redundant legislation that duplicates federal law.

“The so-called partial-birth abortion ban that took effect on the federal level of course applies to individual states laws,” Allen said. “Introducing a duplicative law is really just that politician making it as clear as they can that they oppose abortion.”

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision.

The bill was amended to include a ban “dismemberment abortion” unless the procedure is, in the bill’s words, “necessary in a medical emergency.” The ban 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 (ACOG).

The amendment, based on NRLC copycat legislation, is the top legislative priority of the Texas Right to Life group.

GOP lawmakers in state legislatures have pushed similar measures in recent years, despite unwavering opposition from the medical community. Similar bills were blocked by state courts in Oklahoma and Kansas, and blocked by federal courts in Alabama and Louisiana.

Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) introduced the amendment to ban the D and E abortion procedure, and responded to criticism of the amendment by claiming that there were other types of procedures available for second trimester abortion care, reported the Texas Tribune.

The only other procedure available to terminate a second trimester pregnancy is induction abortion, a procedure in which a physician will induce labor using medication. Induction abortion care is less common than D and E abortion care for a variety of reasons, according to a report by Megan Donovan, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute.

“Perhaps most significantly, induction requires a woman to experience contractions and go through labor; in addition to the emotional toll this can take, it can also be associated with greater pain and an increased risk of complications,” wrote Donovan.

Democrats offered amendments to the amendment to expand the exceptions; including an exception if the “pregnancy that is the result of sexual assault or incest,” if a physician determines it is “safest available procedure for the woman,” or if the “life of the mother is in jeopardy.”

Each of the Democratic amendments were voted down.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) wept openly as she spoke out against Klick’s amendment on the house floor, reported the Dallas Morning News.

“Unfortunately, women are sometimes in a position where they become pregnant and that pregnancy is not something that they choose,” Howard said. “Changing the law to make it illegal will not stop abortions from happening. All it will do is make it less safe.”

There were 4,386 abortions performed in Texas using the D and E procedure in 2015, or about 8 percent of the abortions performed in the state that year, according to the DSHS Center for Health Statistics.

SB 8 was amended to include more reporting requirements for physicians who provide abortion care, which is similar to a bill passed last week by lawmakers in the house. Physicians who perform “one or more abortions” would be required to provide monthly reports to the DSHS.

The bill has been opposed by organizations including the Texas District of ACOG, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Medical Students for Choice, Whole Woman’s Health, and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

Texas Republicans have largely abandoned the pretense of protecting “women’s health,” instead justifying the abortion restrictions to protect the fetus.

“Lawmakers admitted during the SB 8 debate that they haven’t consulted with any medical professionals but still chose to play doctor on the house floor,” Busby said. “Politicians are not doctors and they have no place in the exam room. SB 8 severely restricts access to abortion and shames and stigmatizes Texans who have abortions.”

The house voted on Saturday for final passage of SB 8 with a 93-45 vote. The bill was passed in the state senate on March 15 by a 24-6 vote, and must now go back to the senate for a vote on the changes made by the house.

The legislative session ends May 29.

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