House committee debate on abortion brings out advocates on both sides

Posted Thursday, Jun. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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More than 200 Texans lined the walls of a House committee hearing room Thursday evening and packed a nearby overflow room for an hours-long, often emotional debate on legislation to toughen abortion restrictions and ban the procedure after the 20th week of pregnancy.

The House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on a package of abortion regulations advancing through the Legislature in the final days of a 30-day special session.

Several women on both sides of the issue described for the House State Affairs Committee the personal trauma of the decision to have an abortion.

“No one can speak on what a woman is feeling when she’s faced with a pregnancy, wanted or unwanted,” said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, the House sponsor of legislation. “But I can tell you that every child is wanted by someone.

“The Legislature should be looking on the side of life — and not death.”

Anne Burdroni, 56, of Austin, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, told lawmakers that she was publicly disclosing for the first time that she had an abortion when she was 20 and living in poverty.

“This was a horrible decision to make for me or any woman,” she said, calling Laubenberg’s measure to make abortions even harder to get a “short-sighted bill.”

Gov. Rick Perry added abortion to the agenda of the special session that he called on May 27 initially to deal with the single topic of redistricting. Abortion has flared into the most emotion-charged topic confronting lawmakers as they head toward adjournment on Tuesday.

The most striking difference between Laubenberg’s bill and an otherwise identical companion measure that passed the Senate on Tuesday is the inclusion of a so-called “fetal pain” provision that was removed from the Senate bill. That provision, which anti-abortion groups have made a priority, would ban abortions on or after the 20th week of pregnancy, which some studies say is when a fetus first feels pain.

“At five months a child is clearly being developed in the womb and can feel the pain,” Laubenberg said. “My desire is to ... protect that child from that pain.”

But state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, cited a report challenging the 20-week threshhold for fetal pain. She also questioned the rationale for the 20-week ban, saying that less than 1 percent of abortions performed in Texas are at 20 weeks or later.

“We’re needlessly overregulating in order to shut facilities down,” Farrar said.

Opponents of the bill charged that the measure is designed to further Republicans’ political agenda against abortion and erode women’s access to healthcare. But supporters, including Kyleen Wright of Mansfield, president of Texans for Life, said the measure would protect women’s health by closing sub-par abortion facilities.

The House and Senate bills require that Texas abortion clinics, which are mostly in urban areas, adhere to 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.

Carol Everett, CEO of Round Rock-based Women’s Wellness, urged lawmakers to enact the regulations and the fetal pain measure, saying Texas is becoming “an abortion mecca.”

“It’s important to protect babies after 20 weeks when they feel pain,” she said. “If it was any other human being, we would protect it.”

Susan Albers, another Austin resident who described herself as a “concerned citizen,” said the potential closure of abortion clinics could force women into do-it-yourself abortions. She told committee members that she got 409,000 hits by searching for “RU-486” on the Internet and learned that she could get “a full abortion” delivered to her door for 90 euros.

“If we pull the rug out from under these facilities, is it not likely that these online pharmacies are going to be very attractive for desperate people?” she asked.

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

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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