Texas Legislature 2019

Texas Senate removes exception that allows abortion after 20 weeks if the pregnancy is unviable

The bill would also prevent what abortion opponents call "discriminatory abortions" — where a woman or a doctor pursues an abortion on the basis of the fetus' sex, race or disability.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, during a 2018 committee hearing.

Texas Legislature 2019

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.

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The Texas Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would ban abortions on the basis of the sex, race or disability of a fetus, and criminalize doctors who perform what opponents call “discriminatory abortions.”

Current state law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but there are certain exceptions, such as when the pregnancy is not viable or the fetus has "severe and irreversible" abnormalities. Senate Bill 1033 would do away with those exceptions — which particularly inflamed Democratic senators, who worry the legislation will unfairly penalize doctors and force women to endure traumatic and ill-fated pregnancies.

Still, the bill passed in a 20-11 vote, with Brownsville Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio bucking his party to support it. The bill must still pass the House.

“Discriminating against another human being based on race, gender and disability are never okay, even in utero,” said North Richland Hills Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock, the bill’s author.

Abortion rights advocates argued the bill would force women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term — even if the fetus is likely to die.

“Your intention is, in fact, to force the woman to carry a fetus that has no chance of survival,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “It is sheer cruelty to deny this woman her constitutional choice.”

In response, Hancock cited a Duke University study which found that women who got an abortion after a life-threatening fetal diagnosis reported more despair and depression than those who continued with the pregnancy. He said the bill was created to ensure “all the needs — the health needs, the welfare of that mother — come first.”

He also noted that the bill would require doctors to give certain information to pregnant women whose fetuses are diagnosed with life-threatening disabilities. The women would receive details about “perinatal palliative care” — support services for people who want to follow through with such pregnancies – which he said many people don’t know about.

Democratic senators questioned how the bill would be enforced, and whether the government would be tracking the doctor’s actions, or the woman’s reasons for having an abortion. Hancock said a woman could choose to tell a physician her reasons for seeking an abortion, but that the bill would not require her to do so.

“How would you know that a physician is performing an abortion on the basis of gender?” asked state Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas. “I think it’s the vehicle for the persecution of people practicing a lawful profession.”