The omnibus abortion bill could get full approval by the end of this week, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other conservative leaders announced Thursday at a news conference.
“We are not going to be interrupted in doing the people’s work by unruly mobs,” said Dewhurst, flanked by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Dewhurst added, "My intentions from Day One were to improve and protect women’s health and to protect the unborn."
As the news conference was going on, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee met and approved House Bill 2, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks of gestation and tighten regulations on abortion facilities and providers. Dewhurst said that the full Senate would approve the bill on Friday — and that the gallery would be cleared if protesters mounted any demonstrations to impede the process.
In a likely preview of the debate to come Friday, the committee voted down two amendments offered by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, that would have created exemptions for victims of rape or incest and abortion facilities more than 50 miles from an ambulatory surgical center.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she plans to offer additional amendments on the Senate floor and that the debate could last eight hours.
At the news conference with Dewhurst, Santorum said he came down to Texas because it "is the center of the pro-life debate right now.” While the national media has lionized state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, for filibustering the legislation in the first special session, he argued that her stance is extreme.
“It’s absolutely remarkable to me that someone would be held up as a champion for women by saying that women who go into abortion clinics should be subject to what we had to deal with in Pennsylvania,” he said in reference to the crimes of Kermit Gosnell. “Those are the things that happen when we try to hide the dirty little secret of what abortion really is in this country.”
HB 2 contains four main provisions: It 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 House gave final approval to the bill on Wednesday.
The Senate Democratic Caucus — with the exception of state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who supports the bill — argues that the bill puts an undue burden on women seeking abortion and intends to close medical facilities that perform abortions, which would also reduce access to family planning services that prevent unintended pregnancies.
Democratic senators have filed a swath of legislation “to truly address vital women's health issues,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said on his Facebook page. That includes legislation co-authored by Democrats to expand Medicaid eligibility to poor adults, “thereby ensuring more Texas women have access to health care,” said Rodriguez. They’ve also filed bills to repeal laws that require a sonogram be performed and medically inaccurate information distributed before a woman can obtain an abortion, among other proposals.
Opponents of the legislation are also taking the fight outside the Capitol. Planned Parenthood has organized a bus tour through its Stand with Texas Women campaign to hold rallies in Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas and McAllen. Today, the organization is also holding a national rally in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposed abortion regulation legislation in Texas and North Carolina, and the abortion laws approved in Ohio in June.
Elizabeth Graham, executive director of Texas Right to Life, said at Thursday's news conference that “we’ve passed more pro-life legislation in the last 10 years than in history." She recounted how Texas had approved the “Women’s Right to Know” Act in 2003, added financing for alternatives to abortion to the state budget in 2005, and passed the abortion sonogram law in 2011. “We fully expect major successes this weekend,” she said.
Pastor Rick Scarborough of Vision America said at the news conference that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade — which originated in Texas — did not advance women’s rights, but rather “the culture of death.”
“I find nothing in the language of the history of the Constitution to support the court’s judgment,” he said. The upcoming passage of HB 2 is a “step towards the end of abortion in America,” he added.
Opponents of the legislation can argue that they are defending a constitutional right to abortion — which the U.S. Supreme Court could eventually overrule, said Santorum, but they couldn’t deny that pregnant women have a child with separate DNA growing inside them.
“The extreme party on this issue are the folks standing up here saying women don’t deserve basic sanitary standards when it comes to abortion clinics,” said Santorum, “and children who would otherwise be born alive aren’t entitled to any protections.”
Dewhurst added that he appreciated Santorum’s point that the bill “speaks for itself.”
Shefali Luthra contributed to this report.
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.