Texas House approves abortion bill; Senate vote next

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by Matt Goodman / WFAA.com

WFAA

Posted on July 10, 2013 at 11:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 10 at 11:32 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas House passed new restrictions Wednesday morning on when, how and where women may get an abortion.

Lawmakers voted in the final step to send House Bill 2 to the Senate. A Senate committee will consider the measure on Thursday as it works its way to becoming law.

After more than 10 hours of debate and 22 tabled amendments, the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday provisionally passed controversial abortion legislation HB 2 by a vote of 98-49.  

"This bill focuses on one part of that pre-born life and that is, at five months, that baby has developed the sensory receptors that it can feel the pain of that abortion," said Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R –Parker, the author of the bill. "That is what gives us the authority and the right to be here, to do this."

The bill requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, regulate when women take abortion pills and mandate that the procedure be performed in a surgical center.

Critics have said that its passage means 37 of the state’s 42 clinics that offer abortions will shutter because they’d be unable to meet the new requirements. Laubenberg dismissed that argument as purely hypothetical and said she will not accept amendments to her bill. In all, 26 amendments were filed Tuesday. The House tabled 22 of those while the other four were withdrawn.  

"This is not about politics. This is heartfelt for every member and, I would say, on both sides it is heartfelt," Laubenberg said during her final statements. "Politics takes the easy path. This has not been easy for anyone. But this is the right thing to do for who we are as humanity." 

Props and graphic testimony highlighted the beginning hours of the debate. Laubenberg swiftly motioned to table each of the amendments –– predominantly filed by Democrats –– that made it to the floor. The House convened at about 10 a.m. and dismissed at about 8:35 p.m. 

The testimony began quickly and intensely, with Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D – Houston, urging her colleagues to pass an amendment allowing abortions after 20 weeks in the case of rape and incest. 

Flanked by Democratic colleagues and wearing a bejeweled pendant in the shape of a clothes hanger on her lapel, Thompson brought a a knitting needle, a feather, an actual clothes hanger and a bottle of turpentine to represent methods used in illegal abortions. 

“Have you thought about how you drive women back to the coat hanger days, when the illegal abortions took place?” Thompson asked.

Laubenberg didn’t budge. She laid out her bill while a pair of baby’s shoes sat on the podium in front of her. She told Thompson that her amendment was unacceptable because a fetus at five months can feel pain. She then graphically described the act of an abortion. 

Rep. Joseph Moody, D – El Paso, attempted to compromise, asking Laubenberg whether she would allow abortions at 23 weeks, 22 weeks or even 21 weeks. Rep. Terry Canales, D – Edinburg, pounded the podium and asked Laubenberg whether she considers a pregnancy by way of rape or incest an “ongoing assault.” 

“I’m moving to table this amendment based on at five months the baby will feel the pain of the abortion,” Laubenberg said. 

Rep. Sarah Davis, R – Houston, who represents the state’s largest city’s medical district, attempted to pass a similar amendment allowing abortions after 20 weeks in the case of rape or incest, severe fetal abnormality, or if the mother’s life was at risk. 

“Now is not the time to play political football with women,” Davis said. “Now is the time to pass good policy, good pro-life policy.” 

Laubenberg rejected her amendment along with another that would have stripped the bill of everything but the ban of abortions after 20 weeks. She also swatted down an amendment that would have compensated women in rural areas who would have to travel a long distance to receive an abortion should a clinic near them shut down under the weight of the requirements. 

“The abortion procedure is elective,” Laubenberg said. 

Rep. Jose Menendez, D – San Antonio, had his amendment tabled 91-53, which would've added exceptions for women taking psychotropic drugs for mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder. The House also tabled an amendment filed by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D – Fort Worth, that she said would bolster sex education in public schools. 

And Rep. Mary Edna Gonzalez' amendment to allow exemptions for women living in rural areas who were the victims of rape or incest was also tabled. She argued that a similar amendment exempting woman in those regions was attached to the state's sonogram law that passed in 2011. 

"Women who are raped in my district, women who are survivors of incest in my district will have to travel over 1,000 miles to a facility," Gonzalez, D – Clint, said. 

Laubenburg argued the need to increase standards at the clinics was too important and motioned to table, receiving a 91-54 vote in favor. 

"The standard of care for women at the abortion clinics should be raised to a standard of practice that is common throughout medicine for every woman," she said. 

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D – Houston, added an impassioned, emotional plea while pitching an amendment that would help the clinics fund the additional requirements. He initially tried to pass this amendment last week before the bill was voted out of committee. 

Turner compared his amendment to the Texas Enterprise Fund, which awards grants for companies that relocate or open up new locations inside the state. 

"Are we aware that in the last two or three weeks that, through the enterprise fund, the state of Texas gave $12 million to Chevron?" He asked. "Are we aware of that?" 

Republicans fought Turner's amendment –– Rep. Bill Zedler, R – Arlington, slammed his hand on the podium as he forcefully expressed his distaste toward giving a clinic that provides abortions state dollars. In a last-gasp chance to sway the House to vote for the amendment, Turner promised to vote in favor of the bill if it was added. 

"I believe in this amendment so much that I will vote for this bill," he said. "Put the amendment on it and call my bluff on it." 

His amendment was tabled 95-51. 

The day’s heated moments were perhaps to be expected, as the legislation is widely despised among women’s rights groups and Democratic lawmakers. A similar bill was filibustered on the final day of the last special session by Sen. Wendy Davis, D – Fort Worth, prompting Gov. Rick Perry to call the Legislature back. 

Thousands have protested the legislation at the Capitol in recent weeks. Supporters of the bill often don blue shirts while the burnt orange masses stand against it. On Tuesday, Rep. Charlie Geren, R – Fort Worth, had to repeatedly request the gallery be quiet during the debate. As the House dismissed, he thanked attendees for mostly remaining calm during the day's proceedings. 

The Associated Press reported that security at the Capitol has "at least doubled" to handle the crowds: Senators during the last special session could not hear themselves over the screaming, chanting masses to take a vote on the abortion bill. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst credited an "uruly mob" with the bill's failure. 

The Senate's Health and Human Services committee will soon vote its abortion bill to the floor. 

On Monday, Sen. Jane Nelson, R – Flower Mound, told News 8 sister station KVUE that about 3,800 people filed to issue testimony before the committee about  SB 1. Most sent in written testimony or position cards. It took about 16 hours for the roughly 500 speakers to finish their two-minutes in front of the committee. 

“I have been in the Texas Senate for 20 years, I have never seen anything like this. I am so impressed with the numbers that came on both sides,” Nelson told KVUE. 

Nelson said the committee will wait for the Republican-controlled House to vote on its version of the abortion bill. Should it pass, the committee will pass on its recommendation for a vote. 

However, as the Associated Press reported, it's not clear whether the bill will be able to stand in court should it pass and be challenged: 

Critics also say the Texas restrictions and those passed by other states conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 Roe v. Wade decision, which established that a woman has the right to get an abortion until her fetus could viably survive outside of the womb, which is generally at 22 to 24 weeks of the pregnancy.

It's unclear if the Texas restrictions could survive a court challenge. Federal courts have suspended aspects of the bill passed by other states. On Monday, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin abortion law requiring admitting privileges.

The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology oppose the bill, calling it unnecessary. 

The Associated Press and KVUE's Jessica Vess and Kenneth Null contributed to this report

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