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Abbott Endorses More Abortion Restrictions

Responding to undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials, Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday endorsed new laws to further tighten restrictions on Texas abortion providers, and possibly bar fetal tissue donation.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional comment.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday endorsed new laws to further tighten restrictions on Texas abortion providers, including a proposal that likely would bar fetal tissue donation.

The governor’s “LIFE Initiative” — a response to a series of sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing procuring fetal tissue for research — calls for criminalizing “any sale or transaction” of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic.

Planned Parenthood has come under fire in recent months after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, released undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood is illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses.

Planned Parenthood officials have condemned the videos, which portray their executives and researchers discussing the fetal tissue procurement process, saying the recordings were heavily edited to mislead the public about the process.

The sale of fetal tissue is already illegal. But if a patient consents, abortion clinics may donate fetal tissue for use in medical research. Federal law allows clinics to be reimbursed for costs “associated with the transportation, implantation, processing preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue” for research purposes.

Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas do not currently donate tissue for medical research, according to the organization. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston previously has participated in fetal tissue donation, partnering with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 2010 for a study on causes of miscarriages.

“This thoroughly discredited smear campaign stems from totally false claims made by anti-abortion extremists who are pursuing a political agenda that is far outside the mainstream," said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the organization's political arm in the state. "Governor Abbott and the politicians behind these baseless attacks have allied themselves with extremists who are willing to lie, harass women and doctors, and reportedly break the law."

Republican senators have already made clear they intend to pursue a ban of fetal tissue donation in Texas when they convene for the next legislative session in 2017.

A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately return a request for clarification on whether the governor would call on lawmakers to return to Austin before then for a special session on his proposed legislation.

Abbott also indicated he wants legislators to change Texas law to make "partial-birth" abortion a felony. A 2003 federal law already bans that practice, a form of late-term abortion known in medical literature as intact dilation and evacuation.

And Texas already bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation with few exceptions — a measure passed in 2013 as part of the set of abortion restrictions known as House Bill 2.

Another legislative proposal from Abbott would make it illegal for abortion doctors to change their procedure used for abortions in order to preserve fetal body parts. Federal law currently forbids government-funded research from using fetal tissue if the timing or procedure for an abortion is altered for the sole purpose of obtaining the tissue.

“Gruesome – and potentially illegal – harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood cannot be allowed in Texas,” Abbott said in a statement. “Treating unborn children as commodities to be sold is an abomination. The barbaric practice of harvesting and selling baby body parts must end.”

He also echoed other Republican in calling for eliminating public funding for Planned Parenthood clinics “at the state and local levels.” After ousting Planned Parenthood from the state’s main program for women’s health in 2011, lawmakers this year cut off dollars some clinics received for breast and cervical cancer screenings.

Under state law, Planned Parenthood clinics are already prohibited from performing abortions if they accept taxpayer dollars.

Disclosure: The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2012. Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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