Texas Legislature might move fast this week

Posted Saturday, Jul. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Legislatively speaking, there will be action in Austin this week.

Emotion will be in plentiful supply as lawmakers again take up the debate on abortion restrictions.

But the kind of drama seen almost two weeks ago, when a filibuster by Senate Democrats and shouting from a gallery full of the legislation’s opponents played out the clock and killed the bill, shouldn’t be expected.

That doesn’t mean the fight is over — far from it. But this time the clock is on the side of Republican leaders who have vowed to pass the bill.

Monday will be only the eighth day of the special session, which can last as long as 30 days.

Barring any unforeseen developments — meaning Democrats pull something unexpected out of their hats, and that’s always possible — the legislating will be done quickly and the fight against almost-assured abortion restrictions will shift to the courts.

The bill would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (compared to the current 24-week standard), require abortion clinics to have more extensive facilities and force abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Critics say the new standards would force all but five of the 42 Texas abortion clinics to close.

The first action this week will be Monday’s meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound.

The committee’s public hearing on Senate Bill 1, the upper chamber’s version of the abortion bill, is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

Anticipating the same crowds that packed a House committee hearing last week, Nelson has limited witness testimony at Monday’s meeting to two minutes each.

More than 1,000 people signed up to testify at the House hearing, but fewer than 100 were allowed to do so before the time allotted for the hearing ran out.

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, have asked Nelson to hold hearings on the bill around the state to allow more Texans to testify. That’s not likely.

The House has not yet scheduled further action on House Bill 2, its version of the abortion restriction measure, but the bill could be set for floor debate early in the week. The bill received an 8-3 endorsement from the State Affairs Committee last week.

Assuming Nelson’s committee and the full House both vote to approve the separate bills early in the week, the Senate could take up the House version and pass it by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, both chambers are holding committee hearings on the other two special session topics approved by Gov. Rick Perry, funding for transportation projects and a juvenile justice bill on sentences for defendants convicted of murders that occurred when they were 17 years old.

There’s little reason to believe those measures won’t receive quick approval. Lawmakers could go home after being in almost-continuous session all this year.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has alluded to possible legal moves against the new abortion restrictions.

There are at least two potential avenues for legal action.

The ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy runs counter to what has become standard under the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which said women can decide to terminate pregnancies in their early months.

The standard under Roe has been the ability of a fetus to live outside the womb, the so-called viability standard.

But times have changed, advocates of the 20-week standard say.

Medical advances in the past 40 years mean many more early-term babies can live.

Still, 20 weeks has been a point of much argument.

Advocates say it’s the point at which a fetus feels and reacts to pain, but critics question the science behind that claim.

Another potential point of legal argument would be the effect of the heightened standards for abortion clinics and doctors.

Critics could argue that putting clinics out of business denies rights that the Supreme Court says should be available to all women.

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?