Let’s be honest about having fewer abortions

Posted Monday, Jul. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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This week the Legislature will vote on a bill that will greatly affect the availability of abortions in Texas.

Like much in politics, the proposal we’ve been debating isn’t really at the heart of the matter.

Let’s be honest about what this is really about, and what those who are actually serious about reducing the number of abortions in Texas can do about it.

The two main provisions of this bill are a ban on abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy — supposedly when a fetus can feel pain — and requirements that health clinics providing abortions have such hospital-like facilities and staff that only five of the roughly 40 such clinics in Texas could stay open — supposedly a move to make abortions safer.

But this bill is not really about whether a fetus feels pain (the medical community overwhelmingly disagrees with that assertion) and it’s not really about improving the safety of women who elect to receive abortions (we don’t require women to give birth in hospital-level facilities, and that procedure is many times more dangerous than an abortion).

The biggest safety effect of this bill will likely be to endanger the women who are hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic and who seek safe abortions. Many will travel to Mexico or an unlicensed facility, as they did before abortions were legal in Texas.

This bill is really about the desire to outlaw abortions. But because the Supreme Court ruled 40 years ago that women have the right to choose whether to carry or terminate their own pregnancies, the Legislature cannot adopt a ban.

So the anti-abortion majority in the Capitol comes up with ways to make abortions more difficult to obtain, even if it means endangering thousands of women’s lives. If they cannot ban it outright, they will severely limit legal access.

If we lose the fight to stop this bill, women — disproportionately working-class, young and rural women — will pay the price by losing not just access to safe abortions, but also to the many other health services these clinics provide.

If we do not have the votes and we cannot again stop this bill through parliamentary procedures, voters should change the leadership in Austin.

What we should all be working on is to substantially reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, thus addressing the root cause of most abortions. Rather than pushing a divisive and unconstitutional assault on women’s rights over their bodies, we could actually help Texas families while reducing the number of abortions.

Texas is fifth in the nation in teenage pregnancies and first in repeat teenage pregnancies, so clearly we need to not just teach teenagers about contraception, but also provide it to them!

The reason we have so many abortions in Texas is that an estimated half of our pregnancies are unplanned and many of those unwanted.

This is why the assaults on Planned Parenthood, comprehensive sex education and contraceptive funding are so nonsensical! We learned this lesson the hard way when our cuts to family planning funding in 2011 produced 24,000 more births over two years, according to Heath and Human Services Commission estimates.

How many more abortions occurred because of that wrong-headed decision?

If reducing abortions is truly the priority, it is time to get over any squeamishness about sex education or free condoms. It is time to get serious about unplanned pregnancies.

Otherwise, Texans will be unable to avoid the obvious conclusion that this is more about pandering to the six percent of Texas voters who vote in Republican primary elections than about actually reducing the number of abortions.

As we debate this bill, I and other legislators will be offering amendments to cut abortions by reducing unplanned pregnancies by increasing effective sexual education, contraceptive funding and healthcare for the children who are born here. And Texans will be watching.

Lon Burnam represents District 90 in the Texas House.

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