Texas Legislature 2019

Texas lawmakers close to sending “born alive” abortion bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk

Republicans in the Texas Senate passed the bill Thursday with the support of two Democrats. If the Texas House concurs with minor changes the Senate made to the measure, it will go to the governor.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, announced the filing of the "born alive" abortion bill at a press conference March 7.
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, announced the filing of the "born alive" abortion bill at a press conference March 7.  Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

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 approved a bill Thursday that would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to treat babies born alive after failed abortion attempts — extremely rare cases — a month after the House approved the same measure. If the House concurs with the Senate's minor changes to House Bill 16, it will then head to the governor's desk.

(Update: The House agreed to the Senate's changes and sent the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott on May 23.)

The Senate approved the bill in a 21-10 vote, with Democratic state senators Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo bucking their party to support the measure. The measure, authored by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, gives teeth to existing federal and state laws that grant legal protections to children born after abortion attempts. Doctors who “fail to provide the appropriate medical treatment” – like immediately transferring the infant to a hospital — could be charged with a third-degree felony, and they would have to pay a fine of at least $100,000.

"We’re drawing a line in the sand,” Leach said. "We’re proclaiming clearly and loudly together that a baby who survives an abortion deserves the full protection of the law and the highest standard of medical care."

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However, such "born alive" cases are very rare. Texas reported zero live births resulting from abortions between 2013 and 2016, all the years that the Department of State Health Services has collected the data. Therefore, Democrats think that the bill is a solution in search of a problem, one that unfairly penalizes doctors.

"We don’t have any evidence that it’s necessary,” said state Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas. “Its purpose is to interfere with the legitimate practice of a profession and the constitutional right of people."

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The Wisconsin Assembly recently passed a similar bill, but the state’s Democratic governor has promised to veto the measure. The Democratic governors of two other states — North Carolina and Montana — have vetoed "born alive" bills in the last month.

The U.S. Senate rejected a national version of the bill earlier this year, which prompted the state-level response in Texas and other states. The “born alive” proposals are part of a national Republican response to efforts by abortion rights advocates in states like New York and Virginia to roll back regulations on late-term abortions.