Texas Legislature
5:38 am
Wed July 10, 2013

House gives preliminary OK to abortion restrictions

The Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday night voted 98-49 to tentatively approve the abortion regulations in House Bill 2.

The measure would ban abortions at 20 weeks and add regulations to abortion providers and facilities that opponents argue would effectively eliminate access to abortion in Texas. The House must approve the bill again on another calendar day before it will be sent to the Senate.

In closing remarks on HB 2, Republicans emphasized that their goal was to protect women and unborn children, while Democrats expressed concern that the legislation would harm women by decreasing access to safe and legal abortions without offering any alternatives, such as education.

“This is not just happening in Texas, but all across the country in state after state,” said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, the bill's author.

“At five months the baby has developed the sensory receptors that it can feel the pain of that abortion,” she added. “That is what gives us the authority and the right to be here, to do this. This is not about politics. This is heartfelt for every member.”

The engagement from advocates on both sides of the issue showed that the legislative and electoral process is working, said state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, a physician. While some have called the legislation part of a “war on women,” others, such as him, think it will save human lives, he added.

“Some look at an unborn child and a human fetus and they see tissue, tissue that upon the discretion of the woman can be disposed of,” he said. “Other people look at that fetus and they see another human life. And what a difference that perspective makes.”

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, urged lawmakers to realize that no one is “pro-abortion,” and expressed discontent that some supporters of the bill had labeled opponents of the legislation “baby killers.” She said that the question is not when life begins but rather, “It’s a question of decisions that have to be made along the way.”

Howard said that during the regular session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers came together to increase financing for family planning services, which decrease maternal deaths, infant deaths and unplanned pregnancies.

“What we’re talking about here is going backwards,” she said. “It’s embarrassing that we’re doing this.”

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said before the vote that the Democrats didn’t have a monopoly on “righteous indignation.”

“I shall stand here no longer and be accused of conducting a war on women,” Villalba said, “merely because I choose to protect and support human life. We fight this fight because of innocent human life.”

He held up a sonogram picture of the 13-week-old fetus growing inside of his pregnant wife.

"Our intentions are honorable because we care for and fight for human baby lives," Villalba said. "It matters for my son. It matters for other babies, other humans in our state who will have to deal with these questions."

Despite the partisan divide on this issue, state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, asked lawmakers and the audience to understand the passionate position of each side and to respect the legislative process. He closed by reading a poem written by his sister years after she had an abortion.

“In my heart there lives a child, one who’s never breathed,” Simmons read. “He never got the chance to know what life would have in store, because I chose to end his life, before he was ever born.”

State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, recalled personal experiences, such as the story of her father’s friend who died obtaining an illegal abortion in Mexico, so that lawmakers could understand why she opposed the bill.

“When you come up here and ask why is a rape and incest exception important, I don’t want you to think about these women in a faraway lands,” Gonzalez said after declaring she was a victim of child sexual assault. “I want you to look at me. I want you to understand it took me five years to tell anyone.”

She added that lawmakers could have done more to improve the legislation and to improve women’s health and safety. Instead, she said, “you’re forcing women to find black-market alternatives.”

In total, the House tabled 22 amendments to HB 2.

“Twelve people can put somebody to death in this state,” said state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who offered an amendment, which was tabled, that would have made the provisions in HB 2 contingent upon a repeal of the death penalty in Texas. “But now, we want one person to not be able to decide that same issue.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Senate committee that on Monday considered Senate Bill 1, the companion to HB 2, released statistics on the number of people who registered a position on the bill: 1,780 people registered in favor of the legislation, 2,076 registered against it and seven as neutral. Of the 477 people who registered to give testimony before 11 a.m. on Monday, 357 spoke — 218 of whom opposed the bill. In comparison, 2,181 people registered against the bill when it was in the House committee, while 1,355 registered support.

"Again, I would thank everyone for participating in their state government and for providing their opinions on this important piece of legislation," state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the committee chairwoman, said in a statement. "We had a successful hearing where everyone was given an opportunity to have their voice heard.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/07/09/take-two-house-debates-proposed-abortion-regulatio/.