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House Approves Abortion Restrictions

UPDATED: The House voted 96-49 on Wednesday to give final approval to proposed abortion regulations in Texas. House Bill 2 now heads to the Senate.

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker,  leads debate on HB 2 regarding abortion restrictions in the House on July 9, 2013.

Updated July 10, 11:30 a.m.:

*Correction appended.

The House voted 96-49 on Wednesday to give final approval to proposed abortion regulations in Texas. House Bill 2, which would ban abortion at 20 weeks and enact some of the strictest regulations in the country on abortion providers and facilities, now heads to the Senate.

“If we’re going to ask for more children to come into this world, we should provide for them,” said state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio. She offered an amendment, which lawmakers tabled, that would have extended state benefits to children put into the foster care and adoption system by women who could not access abortion as a result of the legislation. She added, “We know there are going to be lots of cases where the mothers just cannot, even though they may want to, they cannot take care of them.”

The bill’s author, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, said the amendment falsely assumed that abortion services would not be available. "It goes under the assumption that if a child is born in need that there are no services available, and that is also not the case,” she said.

Unless two-thirds of Senate lawmakers vote to suspend the rules — unlikely, given the number of Democrats opposed to the legislation — HB 2 cannot be considered in the upper chamber until 24 hours after it is approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. That means the earliest the legislation could be considered by the full Senate is Friday. The committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday.*

During the final vote, a woman screamed from the gallery that she objected to the proceedings. She refused to quiet or leave, and state troopers carried her out of the gallery by her hands and feet. 

House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said five women were arrested and taken to jail by state police who were stationed in the House gallery. Several of them sat through the opening prayer and pledges of allegiance to the national and state flags. When the abortion bill came to a final vote in the House, they began shouting, "We will not be silenced," but the vote proceeded, uninterrupted. 

Ross Ramsey contributed to this report.

*This story originally stated that the Senate must wait 48 hours to consider the bill after it is approved by a committee. That rule applies in a regular session, but in a special session such as this, bills can be considered after 24 hours. It has been corrected.

Updated, 8:45 p.m.:

After more than 10 hours of debate, the House voted 98-49 to tentatively approve the abortion regulations in House Bill 2, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks and add regulations to abortion providers and facilities that opponents argue would effectively eliminate access to abortion in Texas. The House must approve the bill again on another calendar day before it will be sent to the Senate.

In closing remarks on HB 2, Republicans emphasized that their goal was to protect women and unborn children, while Democrats expressed concern that the legislation would harm women by decreasing access to safe and legal abortions without offering any alternatives, such as education.

“This is not just happening in Texas, but all across the country in state after state,” said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, the bill's author.

“At five months the baby has developed the sensory receptors that it can feel the pain of that abortion,” she added. “That is what gives us the authority and the right to be here, to do this. This is not about politics. This is heartfelt for every member.”

The engagement from advocates on both sides of the issue showed that the legislative and electoral process is working, said state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, a physician. While some have called the legislation part of a “war on women,” others, such as him, think it will save human lives, he added.

“Some look at an unborn child and a human fetus and they see tissue, tissue that upon the discretion of the woman can be disposed of,” he said. “Other people look at that fetus and they see another human life. And what a difference that perspective makes.”

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, urged lawmakers to realize that no one is “pro-abortion,” and expressed discontent that some supporters of the bill had labeled opponents of the legislation “baby killers.” She said that the question is not when life begins but rather, “It’s a question of decisions that have to be made along the way.”

Howard said that during the regular session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers came together to increase financing for family planning services, which decrease maternal deaths, infant deaths and unplanned pregnancies.

“What we’re talking about here is going backwards,” she said. “It’s embarrassing that we’re doing this.”

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said before the vote that the Democrats didn’t have a monopoly on “righteous indignation.”

“I shall stand here no longer and be accused of conducting a war on women,” Villalba said, “merely because I choose to protect and support human life. We fight this fight because of innocent human life.”

He held up a sonogram picture of the 13-week-old fetus growing inside of his pregnant wife.

"Our intentions are honorable because we care for and fight for human baby lives," Villalba said. "It matters for my son. It matters for other babies, other humans in our state who will have to deal with these questions."

Despite the partisan divide on this issue, state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, asked lawmakers and the audience to understand the passionate position of each side and to respect the legislative process. He closed by reading a poem written by his sister years after she had an abortion.

“In my heart there lives a child, one who’s never breathed,” Simmons read. “He never got the chance to know what life would have in store, because I chose to end his life, before he was ever born.”

State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, recalled personal experiences, such as the story of her father’s friend who died obtaining an illegal abortion in Mexico, so that lawmakers could understand why she opposed the bill.

“When you come up here and ask why is a rape and incest exception important, I don’t want you to think about these women in faraway lands,” Gonzalez said after declaring she was a victim of child sexual assault. “I want you to look at me. I want you to understand it took me five years to tell anyone.”

She added that lawmakers could have done more to improve the legislation and to improve women’s health and safety. Instead, she said, “you’re forcing women to find black-market alternatives.”

In total, the House tabled 22 amendments to HB 2.

“Twelve people can put somebody to death in this state,” said state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who offered an amendment, which was tabled, that would have made the provisions in HB 2 contingent upon a repeal of the death penalty in Texas. “But now, we want one person to not be able to decide that same issue.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Senate committee that on Monday considered Senate Bill 1, the companion to HB 2, released statistics on the number of people who registered a position on the bill: 1,780 people registered in favor of the legislation, 2,076 registered against it and seven as neutral. Of the 477 people who registered to give testimony before 11 a.m. on Monday, 357 spoke — 218 of whom opposed the bill. In comparison, 2,181 people registered against the bill when it was in the House committee, while 1,355 registered support.

"Again, I would thank everyone for participating in their state government and for providing their opinions on this important piece of legislation," state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the committee chairwoman, said in a statement. "We had a successful hearing where everyone was given an opportunity to have their voice heard.”

Updated, 5 p.m.:

As the House debate on the omnibus abortion regulations bill continued Tuesday afternoon, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, moved to table all of the amendments — just as she promised to do — that were proposed to House Bill 2, which she authored. 

So far, the House has tabled 14 amendments — all but one filed by Democrats  — and representatives have filed more than 20 amendments total. 

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, offered an amendment that would have required evidence-based sexual education in public schools and exempted minors who did not receive proper sexual education from the 20-week abortion ban. "We must find ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies, especially by educating — educating — our children," she said in pushing her amendment, which was tabled by a 94-44 vote.

“The root of the problem really goes back to the home and the family,” state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said in opposition to the amendment. He said there is plenty of information available to children, and that families should be charged with teaching proper sexual education. Laubenberg agreed, adding, “I think kids today don’t have any problem understanding what sex is.”

“Everyone does not come from a house like many of us grew up in,” McClendon, said. “Many of the children, a lot of the children, come from homes that we would be ashamed to say that a child lived in that environment.” 

The House also tabled amendments offered by Democrats that would have exempted women with severe mental illness from the 20-week abortion ban; extended the timeframe for victims of rape or incest to receive drug-induced abortions; exempted doctors who perform abortions from the hospital privileges requirement if nearby hospitals had a written policy not to grant privileges to those doctors; and required the state to reimburse women for travel costs if they were forced to travel more than 30 miles to obtain an abortion as a result of the legislation, among others. 

Original story:

With a packed gallery filled mostly with abortion opponents overlooking the proceedings, the full House began a new round of debate Tuesday on proposed abortion regulations in Texas.

“My goal in this bill is to stop abortion at five months based on the pain” felt by unborn fetuses, said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, the author of House Bill 2. She added that the bill “truly does deal with the health and safety of a woman undergoing an abortion.”

HB 2 would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and recognize that the state has a compelling interest to protect fetuses from pain; require doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the facility; require doctors to administer the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 in person, rather than allow the woman to take it at home; and require abortions — including drug-induced ones — to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers. The measure passed through the House State Affairs Committee last week.

(This Tribune interactive compares the proposed abortion regulations with laws passed in other states.)

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, opened the debate by questioning Laubenberg on a variety of measures in the bill.

In her questions, Farrar suggested that the bill would reduce access to abortion by requiring facilities across the state to upgrade to more expensive ambulatory surgical centers and increasing the cost of abortion as a result. She also asked how requiring drug-induced abortions to be performed in a facility with a post-operative waiting room, pre-operative waiting room and sterilization facilities makes those abortions safer.

“The question should be what is best for the health of the woman,” Laubenberg said in response to whether the facility requirements would increase the cost of abortions. She added that facility upgrades were necessary for abortion procedures, because “the expected outcome is the taking of a life — this is a very unique procedure.”

Other Democrats argued that because only six of the state’s 42 existing abortion facilities meet the existing ambulatory surgical center standards, the bill would create an undue burden on access to abortion, particularly for poor and rural women.

“I’m just concerned your bill is putting obstacles for women who make a choice, a very personal choice to get a procedure done,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. She said that when the regulations in HB 2 are coupled with the existing abortion sonogram law, a woman seeking a medical abortion would have to see a physician three times on three separate days. That would put an unnecessary burden on women who live far from the six ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions, all of which are located in urban areas, she said.

Laubenberg said she does not believe the legislation would force abortion clinics to close. “Raising their standards will not force them to close,” she said.

Although representatives have filed more than 15 amendments so far — and they can continue filing them throughout the day — Laubenberg indicated that she would not accept any amendments to HB 2.

“One of the hardest decisions in the world for a young woman to make is to go and tell somebody that her stepfather or her father, uncle has raped her and she’s pregnant,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who offered an amendment, which was tabled, to exempt victims of rape and incest from the 20-week abortion ban. Thompson said the language was exactly the same as an exemption for rape and incest victims in the abortion sonogram law approved by Republicans in 2011.

The lone Republican who voted against the abortion regulations in the first special session, state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, offered an amendment, which was also tabled, to add exemptions to the 20-week ban on abortion — for the health of the mother, in cases of severe fetal abnormality and for victims of rape and incest who can show severe psychological damage would occur if they were denied an abortion — and strike the rest of the bill.

“No one wants to see abortion. It is a horrible way to end a pregnancy, but it is a constitutionally protected right,” said Davis. She argued the existing language in HB 2 was unconstitutional because it would effectively deny women access to abortion. The organized medical community opposes the hospital privileges and ambulatory surgical requirements, added Davis, whose district includes multiple medical centers in Houston.

“I have done everything I can to make this bill as pro-life as I know this state is, but also embracing good policy and respect for women and the Constitution of the United States,” said Davis.

The House voted 89-56 to table the amendment.  

On Monday, a Senate committee considered public testimony on the companion, Senate Bill 1, but it plans to wait until the House approves its version of the bill before sending it to debate in the upper chamber.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.   

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