Anti-Abortion Bill Officially Advanced by House

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Bill author Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) struck down more than 20 amendments to her abortion-restrictive legislation. Photo courtesy of Texas House of Representatives.

Update: The Texas House officially passed HB2 in a 96-49 vote this morning. San Antonio Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon offered an amendment that would assist children, born as a result of unintended pregnancies, secure adoptive services. If the state is asking for more children to be born, it should be able to provide for them, argued McClendon. Her measure, like the more than 20 proposed during yesterday's debate, was tabled.

From promoting sex education to providing pre-natal care for women forced to carry pregnancies to term– nearly two dozen amendments that sought to offset some of the devastating effects a draconian anti-abortion bill would have on Texas women were discarded during an all-day debate on the House floor. In a final 98-49 vote, the legislation sailed through the chamber and after a final okay from the House, it moves to the Senate for approval in the Legislative second special session.

House Bill 2 bans abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors, forces patients to follow certain protocol when taking abortion-inducing drugs and compels abortion clinics to comply with the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs)– only five clinics would remain if the requirement is enacted.

“After hours and hours of amendments that would have done a lot of to help women’s health, I don’t feel convinced HB 2 is about [

] reducing unwanted or unplanned pregnancies,” said San Antonio Rep. Jose Menendez before a vote was taken. “It seems to be simply intended to further and nearly totally restrict abortion in Texas.”

The GOP majority easily struck down each amendment, mostly filed by Democrats– with the exception of Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston). The some 22 amendments received light consideration and were quickly pushed aside by bill author Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker). The Current reported today on the events that unfolded early on in the roughly 10-hour debate.

Saying the legislation, as it is written, “goes too far,” Rep. Rafeal Anchia (D-Dallas) suggested an amendment that would allow physicians to determine health risks surrounding women who consider abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and Rep. Menendez offered an amendment to make exceptions for women with mental health problems and those taking psychotropic drugs– both tabled.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) sought to include a provision that would promote sex education with the aim of preventing unplanned pregnancies and thus, abortion. Laubenberg didn’t see the point, “I think kids today don’t have any problem understanding what sex is.” But Texas, a leader in abstinence-only education, also leads the nation in teen birth rates–in 2011 the state had the fifth highest teen birth rate and came in first in repeat teen births the year prior, according to the Texas Freedom Network.

Fearing women would be forced to make the dangerous trek to Juarez for abortions or receive the procedure in unregulated, black market clinics if the bill becomes law, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso) offered an amendment to exempt facilities located 50 miles from other centers to help rural women in her district feasibly access a center. If not added, the representative said women would need to travel 100 and up to 1,000 miles for an abortion.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) tried adding a stipulation that would make the state provide the necessary funding for the costly upgrades associated with transitioning to an ASC. Turner said upgrades to a 4-5,000 sq. ft. abortion center would cost $1.4-1.6 million and building a new facility could cost up to $3 million.

It’s "hypocritical" for the government to subsidize private industry, such as the Texas Enterprise Fund’s recent $12 million grant to oil company Chevron, but not financially assist businesses undergoing expensive upgrades imposed by the state, said Turner. Laubenberg shot back that the state is not in the business of “remodeling projects”– despite the fact her bill would effectively force abortion centers to substantially remodel their facilities– and (you guessed it) moved to table Turner’s amendment.

In a “Loser Pay” amendment, Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) asked the state to finance litigation brought forth by challenges to the bill if passed. That didn’t fly. Later, Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) tested the “pro-life” premise with an amendment that would repeal the death penalty as a result of criminal charges. If not supported, those in the ‘anti-abortion’ but ‘pro-death penalty’ camp are guilty of “intellectual inconsistency,” said Dutton. Tabled, of course.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) thought it would make sense to assist women, forced to carry pregnancies to term if the 20-week-ban is instated, with pre-natal care benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid coverage. That logic didn’t follow for Laubenberg who– yes, tabled a proposal to help pregnant women and their families.

In the end, the more than 20 measures suggested by lawmakers that would actually prevent unwanted pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions and aid pregnant women, failed one by one in the hands of Republicans who claim the bill is meant to promote and “protect” women’s health.

It’s important to note the abortion restrictions would exacerbate an already damaged women’s healthcare landscape. In 2011, the Texas Legislature slashed $74 million from family planning funds, forcing more than 50 reproductive health clinics to shutter. And at the start of this year, GOP lawmakers cut Planned Parenthood out of a live-saving Medicaid program for low-income women, a move that left nearly 50,000 scrambling to find a source for preventative care like pap smears, cancer screenings and birth control. Conservative Republicans did this to prevent taxpayer funds from going toward abortion even though federal and state law prohibit this.

Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), who has served in the statehouse for 20 years and witnessed the massive family planning cuts as well as the passage of a controversial sonogram law, described the HB2 abortion restrictions as “unprecedented.”

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