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Debate on more abortion restrictions moves to Texas House today

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The House sponsor of legislation tightening abortion restrictions says she plans to vigorously push for a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, a provision that was removed from a companion bill that passed the Senate late Tuesday.

“To me, that’s the essence of what we’re trying to do — protect pre-born life,” said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker.

The House State Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider Laubenburg’s bill todayas the perennial hot-button issue moves to the House. A companion bill, Senate Bill 5 by state Sen. Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy, cleared the Senate by a mostly party-line vote of 20-10 vote late Tuesday night following one of the most contentious debates of the 83rd Legislature.

Hegar amended the bill to remove the 20-week restriction. Her said he wanted to keep the restriction but worried there wasn’t enough time to pass it with just one week left in the special session, The Associated Press reported.

Supporters of tougher regulations on abortions have increasingly called for a ban on abortions on or after the 20th week of pregnancy, which they say is when a fetus can begin to feel pain.

Laubenberg said there is widespread support in both the House and Senate to include the provision as a key element in the package of restrictions advancing through the special session.

“In my opinion, the state has compelling interest, based on the pain aspect, to protect pre-born life at 20 weeks and beyond,” Laubenberg said. “We’ll get it back in. I believe at the end of the day, it’s going to pass with everything else.”

Kyleen Wright of Mansfield, president of Texans for Life, said her group is “working to get the strongest bill that is going to protect the most women and save the most babies.” The 20th-week provision, she said, is “certaintly our first preference, absolutely.”

The State Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on two bills by Laubenberg — HB16, which calls for the ban on abortions on or after the 20th week of pregnancy, and HB60, which has been described as an omnibus regulation measure identical to the Senate bill.

HB60 and SB5 each requires that Texas abortion clinics, which are located mostly in urban areas, meet the same standards as a licensed ambulatory surgical center.

The bills also require that abortion clinic physicians have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the place where they perform abortions. And they require that if doctors administer the abortion inducing drug, RU-486, they do so in person.

During the Senate debate, Republicans hailed SB5 as a needed step toward protecting women’s health and cracking down on substandard abortion clinics, but Democrats said the bill would deny health care access to thousands of Texas women by shutting down clinics that provide prenatal and preventive services.

House Democrats said Wednesday that they plan to echo their Senate counterparts in giving the bill an equally hostile reception in the House.

“In general, what the Senate did yesterday was a frontal assult on womens rights,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the No. 2 member of the Democratic leadership team in the House. “This is partisan, divisive legislation that is completely uncessary, and this is how it’ll be received on the House floor by Democrats.”

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said he shares the view expressed repeatedly by Senate Democrats, who called the bill pandering to conservative Republicans.

“If I were guesstimating, I would say an overwhelming majority of [House] Democrats willl vote against the intrusion on consntitutional rights,” Burnam said. “Unfortunately, Texans have been plagued for going on to two decades now with governors more interested in their presidential ambitions that they are in the best interests of Texans.”

In a statement after the Senate vote, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said Senate leaders “chose to push through their red meat, partisan political agendas, sacrificing women’s options and endangering their health in the process.”

She singled out Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for exhibiting “big government at its worst by putting their own political ambitions ahead of Texas women.”

Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer, said passage of the bill sent “a strong message to Texans about protecting women’s health and preserving human life” following “tragic revelations” in the recent trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a baby born alive in a botched abortion.

“These new restrictions on the abortion industry in Texas will save innocent lives and better protect the health of women who make the choice to terminate a pregnancy,” said Dewhurst. “It breaks my heart to think of even one innocent life ended by abortion, but until the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, we must continue working to protect the sanctity of life.”

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairwoman of 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 health care providers.

In addition to the abortion measure, lawmakers are also grappling with special session bills on transportation, redistricting and criminal justice, raising the strong possibility that they will have to work at least one day during the weekend. Pojman said the abortion bill may not be eligible for consideration on the House floor until Saturday.

The bill is the first abortion measure to advance toward passage in the 83rd Legislature.

Perry added abortion in the special session after conservative Republicans complained that anti-abortion measures were given scant attention during the 140-day regular session that ended May 27.

Dave Montgomery is chief of the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau, 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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