Health Agency Bill Pulled Amid Heated Abortion Debate

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Debate on legislation to re-evaluate a state health agency morphed into a fight over abortion in the Texas House on Thursday, and the bill was pulled down after a pair of anti-abortion amendments were added to the bill over the author's objections.

The amendments, authored by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, included one that would ban abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks. Democrats and the bill's author, state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, had objected, complaining the amendments weren't relevant to the bill. House Bill 2510, would streamline services at the Department of State Health Services.

The amendment nonetheless passed 83-46. Joining Democrats in voting against the amendment were Republicans Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, Sarah Davis of West University Place, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville and John Zerwas of Richmond.

Schaefer had already proposed the fetal abnormality ban, filing a bill in February. House Bill 1976 was referred to the House State Affairs Committee but hasn't had a hearing.

 

Schaefer also successfully added an amendment that would tighten reporting requirements for abortion facilities, requiring them to submit monthly — rather than annual — reports about the abortions they performed. That measure passed 82-53.

HB 2510 now goes back to the House Human Services Committee.

Debate over the bill quickly turned into emotional commentary on the issue of abortion.

“We should value what God values, and that’s the life of the unborn,” Schaefer said.

Democrats and one Republican took to the microphone to oppose the measure. “This is wrong and unnecessary and strictly to gain political favor, and I am truly offended,” said state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen. 

He was joined by state Rep. J.D. Sheffield, a Republican from Gatesville, who also spoke against the amendment. Sheffield, a doctor who said he had delivered countless babies, asked: “Why should the heavy, blunt hand of government come into that most heart-rending decision?”

But state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, a surgeon, came to the defense of Schaefer’s amendment, saying families with nonviable children should do the “right thing, which is to deliver that child, to not destroy it, to not chop it up.”

Before the fetal abnormality amendment was voted on, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, asked Schaefer if he would yield for questions.

 

In a move uncommon in the House, Schaefer responded, “I will not yield,” and turned away, prompting some gasps.

Joined by other Democrats and Republicans, Farrar then spoke in opposition to the amendment but not before criticizing Schaefer for not yielding for questions.

“I won’t even go into the level of misogyny I have experienced this session,” Farrar said.

After Schaefer's amendments were added to the bill, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, tried to get HB 2510 stopped on a technicality. With the bill returning to the Human Services Committee, Martinez Fischer said, amendments "just fell off."

"If individual members have pieces of legislation they want to advance, they need to advance their legislation but don't try to tack those onto an agency review," Martinez Fischer said Thursday evening. "I think that's what Chairman Price was trying to say." 

Though Martinez Fischer eventually withdrew the technicality, Price said he wanted to send the legislation back to committee “to save the life of the bill and continue working on it.”

“We have to remember what we’re here to do,” Price said, asking members to help him pass a Sunset bill focused on improving the Department of State Health Services.

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.    

Sign Up for The Brief

Our daily news summary