Agenda Texas
7:25 am
Thu March 28, 2013

Abortion bills gain momentum

Amid the budget battles, abortion access has also become an issue in the state legislature.

Ben Philpott / Agenda Texas

“The Governor didn’t mention abortion in his State of the State speech. Had no emergency items related to social issues or anything in fact. It just seems that social issues have been de-emphasized this session," Smith said.

Slow Start, Fast Finish

The abortion omission was particularly glaring in a state that has consistently chipped away at abortion access over the last decade. But anti-abortion bills are now gaining momentum.

Here’s Governor Perry at the Texas Faith and Family Day rally at the Capitol yesterday, talking about a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks because of claims a fetus can feel pain after that point.

“I don’t think there is any issue that better fits the definition of compelling state interest than preventing the suffering of our state’s children, including those yet unborn," Perry said to cheers from the crowd.

So after a slow start, it’s ‘game on’  for Texas Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham.

"We really think the energy is revived. And it’s starting again. And we’ll start to see some more debates and some more protections on life," Graham said.

Patient not Procedure

But so far those protections have been focused on the life of the mother not the fetus. Graham said abortion advocates say the procedure should remain safe, legal and rare.

“When we talk about safe, we find that abortion clinics are not up to par," Graham said. "They don’t have hallways, many of them, that are wide enough for gurneys to fit through. So when there is a botched abortion or an abortion complication, the abortion clinics are ill-equipped to respond to an emergency situation.”

So in the name of patient safety, there’s a bill requiring abortion clinics to meet standards set for ambulatory surgical centers. Another would require all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away from the clinic.

Abortion advocates say both standards would be hard for rural clinics and doctors to meet. Which could lead to the closing of most of the states 67 abortion clinics.

The "Fetal Pain" Bill

Back to that so-called "Fetal Pain" bill. It would ban abortions after 20 weeks. That’s 7 weeks sooner than under current law.

"The bill is based on the medical science of the child feeling pain. So the neurological receptors, the neurological structures -- the physiological structures -- all that equipment is present and functioning in that child at 20 weeks," Texas Right to Life's Graham said.

Although those supporting studies have drawn scrutiny from abortion advocates and other scientists.

Similar bills have been filed and passed in a handful of red states over the last year. North Dakota’s governor just signed a law banning abortions after 6 weeks. That beats the newly passed law in Arkansas, a ban after 12 weeks, for the most restrictive law in the country.

Graham wouldn't oppose a move to lower the Texas bill’s current 20 week threshold. But just how far the bill will go is up in the air. There’s some question about how tight the U.S. Supreme Court will allow abortion restrictions to get.

“My understanding of Roe v Wade is a viability analysis. And when I have been talking to doctors it seems viability is anywhere between 23 and 25 weeks," State House Member Sarah Davis (R-Houston) said.

Based on that, she’s not sure the bill would be constitutional.

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