The Texas Senate gave approval to two abortion-related bills on Wednesday.

The upper chamber gave final passage to Senate Bill 8, which would ban what opponents call "partial-birth" abortions and put restrictions on donating fetal tissue, and gave initial approval to Senate Bill 415, which would ban doctors from performing dilation and evacuation abortions.

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said he sponsored SB 8 because Texas law enforcement "lacks the authority to enforce the ban on partial-birth abortion." The procedure is already prohibited by federal law, and Schwertner said he wants to align state and federal statute, allowing Texas law enforcement to prosecute cases.

The other main function of SB 8 would be a ban on the sale of fetal tissue and increased restrictions on donations of such tissue for medical research. The sale of fetal tissue is illegal under federal law, 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.

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While presenting his bill, Schwertner cited videos released in 2015 that showed Planned Parenthood officials across the nation, including in Houston, discussing how their providers obtain fetal tissue for medical research. Though the videos have been widely debunked, abortion opponents claim they are evidence of Planned Parenthood employees admitting to selling fetal tissue.

The only debate the bill faced before confirmation was over an amendment by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would allow a women whose pregnancy was terminated to request the donation of any aborted fetal tissue for medical research that could, she said, “save lives.” Though Schwertner agreed that “research is important,” he said his bill aimed to remove “any incentive of utilization of human fetal tissue for profit.”

Zaffirini’s amendment was voted down.

The bill received a Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing last month, which Schwertner chairs.

“What we want to do is get away from profiting motive as well as middlemen dealing with fetal tissue,” Schwertner said at that hearing.

The Senate also tentatively approved SB 415, by Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which targets dilation and evacuation abortions — second-trimester procedures where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. Opponents call them “dismemberment abortions.”

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During a heated debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, asked Perry whether he had consulted with any obstetrics and gynecology groups before drafting the bill. Perry said no.

Later, Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, told the chamber that medical professionals agree that the dilation and evacuation procedure is the safest way to perform an abortion after the first trimester and said the bill would potentially punish doctors who use the procedure to save a woman's life.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, then introduced an amendment that would allow doctors to perform the procedure if it is the safest available option for a pregnant woman. The amendment failed. 

The bill is scheduled for a final vote on Monday.

Read more:

  • Senate Health and Human Services Committee members heard emotional testimony last month from reproductive rights activists and abortion opponents over three measures that would further restrict the procedure.
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