AUSTIN — State senators plunged into a contentious debate Tuesday over legislation toughening regulations on abortion clinics, but Republicans abandoned an attempt to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy.Republican supporters said the regulatory bill is needed to crack down on substandard clinics, but opponents asserted that the measure would leave thousands of women without access to needed prenatal care and preventive services.Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said the bill would lead to “excessive regulation” and would represent “a significant step backward for the health of women.”She also said the bill is less about improving health standards than about feeding “red meat” to conservative voters in the Republican primaries.“I respect your opinion, but I disagree,” Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, told Davis at one point during the exchange. Hegar and other supporters said the bill would protect women by closing “subpar” facilities.Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said abortion “ends a human life” and thanked Hegar for producing legislation that she said would require “abortion providers” to offer the same level of service required of other healthcare providers.“If we save one life … is it not worth it?” said Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who is a physician. The bill would give women the “highest standards” of care, he said.“This is a bill that should pass this body 31-0,” Deuell said.Senate Bill 5 would increase regulatory standards for facilities that perform abortions, require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting procedures at nearby hospitals and require doctors who administer abortion-inducing drugs to do so in person.Hegar said he dropped the provision to ban abortions after 20 weeks because he didn’t think he had the support to pass it with just one week left in the special session, The Associated Press reported.Gov. Rick Perry included the abortion measure as a late entry to the special session, which he originally called to deal with redistricting. Conservatives had complained that anti-abortion issues were not included in the regular session, which ended May 27. This report includes material from The Texas Tribune and The Associated Press.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin Bureau chief. 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery