The Brief: Top Texas News for March 20, 2013

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, gives a passionate response on SB 537 an abortion regulation bill in Senate Health & Human Services on March 19, 2013.
Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, gives a passionate response on SB 537 an abortion regulation bill in Senate Health & Human Services on March 19, 2013.

The Big Conversation

A Senate committee has advanced a controversial bill that critics say amounts to a backdoor abortion ban in Texas.

After a heated and emotional debate on Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved legislation by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, that would require abortion clinics to meet stricter standards.

Deuell and other Republicans say the new guidelines — which impose standards for ambulatory surgical centers on the state's 37 abortion clinics — are meant to protect women.

"I would respectfully say that anyone that’s opposing this bill is basically stating that they do not think that women who make the decision to have an abortion should have the very, very best in medical care," Deuell said at the hearing, as the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican who co-authored the bill, said women "should not be exposed to a clinic with less standards than a clinic that performs a man’s colonoscopy," according to The Dallas Morning News.

But critics of the bill said that imposing such costly standards on abortion clinics would force at least 80 percent of them to close, effectively amounting to a statewide ban on the procedure. Under the legislation, even clinics that only provide drug-induced abortions would face the same rules.

"Your intention may not be to close down clinics, but you don't get to choose the effect of your bill," said Blake Rocap of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Virginia Braun, who runs an abortion clinic in Dallas, added, "Women won't have to worry about being safe, because they will be dead ... because they will self-abort."

The fight over clinic standards comes amid a broader effort by Republicans this session to tighten restrictions on abortion in Texas. Other GOP-backed abortion-related bills up for debate include a "fetal pain" proposal, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, and legislation that would require doctors to personally administer the two-drug cocktail that induces an abortion.

Texas Republicans aren't alone in their anti-abortion push. Earlier this month, Arkansas legislators adopted a ban on the procedure after 12 weeks — the strictest in the nation. Weeks later, North Dakota lawmakers went a step further, approving a ban after six weeks.

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    Video: Term Limits Legislation Passes Out of Senate: "Legislation that could lead to term limits on statewide officeholders made its way through the Senate on Tuesday. Lawmakers also heard testimony on several high-profile bills in committee hearings."

•    Abbott Backs Bill Requiring DNA Testing in Death Penalty Cases: "Attorney General Greg Abbott is supporting a bill by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, that would require DNA testing of 'all biological evidence' in cases where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty."

•    Senate Panel Considers End-of-Life Bills: "A panel of state senators on Tuesday considered two bills that would take drastically different approaches to modifying laws regarding end-of-life care in Texas."

Culled
Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    Immigrant releases from Houston area under review (Houston Chronicle): "More than one-third of the immigrant detainees released under a controversial cost-cutting measure last month came from facilities in Texas, the nation's top immigration official told a congressional panel Tuesday."

•    G.O.P. Opposition to Immigration Law Is Falling Away (The New York Times): "Republican opposition to legalizing the status of millions of illegal immigrants is crumbling in the nation’s capital as leading lawmakers in the party scramble to halt eroding support among Hispanic voters — a shift that is providing strong momentum for an overhaul of immigration laws. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Tea Party Republican, on Tuesday became the latest to embrace a more welcoming approach, declaring to the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants that if they want to work in America, 'then we will find a place for you.'"

•    Russia Criticizes Texas Decision Not to Charge Parents (Reuters): "The Foreign Ministry criticized a decision by United States authorities not to file charges against the adoptive parents of a Russian-born boy who died in January. The death of the 3-year-old led to criminal and child welfare investigations in Texas and a Russian ban on adoptions by Americans."

Quote of the Day: "There's witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt to try to remove one of our best presidents in the state of Texas, and I hope we are able to put this to bed." — State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, on recent tension between University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers and the UT System Board of Regents

Congrats of the Day: To the Texas Tribune softball team, who last night, against our friends over at Texas Monthly, scored their first win (ever!)

Must-Read

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.