Senate Panel Approves Omnibus Abortion Bill

Updated, Friday 2:30 p.m.:

An omnibus abortion regulation bill is headed to the full Senate for debate after receiving tentative approval Friday from a panel of senators.

Senate Bill 5 would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, heighten regulatory standards for facilities that perform abortions, require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting procedures at nearby hospitals, and require doctors who administer abortion-inducing drugs to do so in person. The full Senate is set to take up the legislation on Tuesday.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 5 to 2 — with state Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, casting the only no votes — to advance the legislation. Two committee members, Sens. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, were absent for the vote. 

The individual bills that make up SB 5 — Senate Bills 13, 18 and 24 — were also voted out of the committee. Zaffirini noted that she would continue to work with the legislation's author, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, on changes that could add exemptions for women who seek abortions after 20 weeks because of psychological concerns.

Hegar said the committee substitute of SB 5 adds an exception to the 20-week ban for situations involving a “severe fetal abnormality.”

Original story, June 13:

Impassioned testimony and heated exchanges between senators marked the first hearing on abortion measures of the special session.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday afternoon took up Senate Bill 5, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require that surgical abortions be administered in ambulatory surgical centers, make doctors who perform abortions have admitting procedures at nearby hospitals, and require doctors who administer abortion-inducing drugs to do so in person. 

The bill is part of a response to Gov. Rick Perry’s call to add abortion legislation to the ongoing special session. 

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, asked the author of SB 5, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, whether the legislation would interfere with the relationship between women and their doctors, and whether Hegar had reviewed legal decisions in other states that had overturned or halted similar legislation.

Hegar responded that SB 5 was an “accumulation of all those different bills and scientific data that’s out there,” adding that it was unfair to look at court decisions issued in response to other legislation.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said she was “troubled” by the bill’s language and that she was skeptical of the scientific data Hegar cited.

The ban on abortions after 20 weeks, or so-called preborn pain legislation, is based on research showing that fetuses begin to react to stimuli at 20 weeks of gestation. There is no medical consensus about whether this means fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks.

“How did you reach this great body of evidence?” Garcia asked, adding that she wondered whether it came from medical journals or also from “blogs or googling.”

Hegar responded that there is a great deal of evidence from medical journals indicating fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. He offered to provide Garcia with the evidence after the hearing.

West also cited a study from the American Medical Association contesting the fetal pain research.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, raised concerns about the credibility of the author of the AMA study.

After senators questioned the bill’s sponsors, backers and opponents of the legislation offered emotional testimony.

One critic of the bill said it would “chip away at a woman’s access to a right to choose.”

“I don’t believe that you have the right to make reproductive decisions for me,” she said. “Please keep your bills out of my vagina,” she added to loud applause.

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director speaking on behalf of Americans United for Life, said the legislation was necessary to reform lax abortion regulations.

“An abortion is a surgical procedure and should be treated that way,” she said. 

Brooke Randall, an emergency room physician who opposes the legislation, said the decreasing number of hospitals in the state would make it impossible for many doctors to receive hospital privileges, adding that abortion is a safer and simpler procedure than many others performed in hospitals. 

She added that although doctors can perform abortions if carrying a pregnancy to term would put a woman in physical danger, the fear of criminal penalty would stop most from doing so. 

It is “almost never possible” to be 100 percent sure that a patient will die without an abortion, she said.

A representative from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops said the legislation would protect and promote women’s health by raising the standards for abortions.

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