Gov. Rick Perry threw his support Tuesday behind legislation that would ban abortion in Texas after 20 weeks, the point at which he and other anti-abortion activists say a fetus can feel pain.
The Legislature, which will convene Jan. 8 for a 140-day session that occurs every two years, will also consider a bill that would require physicians who perform abortions to have an agreement with a nearby hospital, allowing them to admit a patient in case of an emergency, Perry said.
Perry - a past and possibly future Republican presidential candidate - said he wants "to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past," but because that isn't possible under federal law, the Legislature has an "obligation to end that kind of cruelty" when an unborn child can feel pain.
NARAL Pro-Choice Texas called the proposed legislation, which has not yet been filed, "a cruel attempt by anti-choice extremists to curb access to care for women in the most desperate of circumstances."
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"The reality is that while most women welcome pregnancy and can look forward to a safe childbirth, for some, pregnancy can be dangerous," the group said in a statement.
The proposed bill, however, should have widespread support in Texas' largely Republican Legislature, which passed several laws in its 2011 session that made it more difficult to get an abortion, including a law that requires women to have a sonogram before going ahead with the procedure and putting in place a 24-hour waiting period between the time she sees a doctor and has the abortion.
If the bill becomes law, Texas would become the 10th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Although some scientists have reported that fetuses have sufficient nerve development to feel pain at 20 weeks of development, a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2005 found "evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester."
The measure abortion opponents support would shorten a woman's window for having an abortion in Texas by seven weeks; current Texas law prohibits abortions during the third trimester unless the health or life of the mother is at stake or if there are fetal abnormalities.
"How tragic to think that these babies suffer pain, a cruel and unnatural death, for simply being unwanted while they're in the womb," said incoming state Sen. Donna Campbell, a Tea Party Republican from New Braunfels who was also on hand in Houston to support the measure. "It's time to strengthen our laws to be in line with what science tells us is possible."
Perry said he also plans to support measures that would improve the quality standards of abortion facilities and ensure women who receive abortions have access to an emergency room if there are complications.
"We also need to require any physician performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital," Perry said. "... From my perspective, this is about common sense, as any patient should have the expectation that the facilities being used are up to standards."
Women's Health suit
While the governor was giving his remarks on Tuesday, Planned Parenthood sent out a press release announcing another lawsuit against the state over the organization's exclusion from the new state-run Women's Health Program.
Republican lawmakers banned Planned Parenthood from the previous Women's Health Program -- a joint state-federal endeavor -- to stanch the flow of taxpayer dollars to clinics affiliated with the provider. That move prompted the federal government to pull out of the program, which was funded with $9 from the federal government for every $1 the state supplied. The state plans to launch the Texas Women's Health Program with state money alone starting next month.
Abortion rights advocates say Texas lawmakers did enough damage in the 2011 session, by way of abortion sonogram legislation and cuts to state-subsidized family planning. They say a fetal pain bill would add insult to injury.
"There is no denying that Gov. Perry and the state Legislature's unprecedented and unrelenting assaults on women's reproductive rights in 2011 are causing hardship for women in Texas every single day," Bebe Anderson, the director of the legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
North Texas reaction
Reaction from area legislative delegation members was split along party lines.
State Rep.-elect Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said he has offered to help carry the measure in the House. "We'll do whatever we can to help [the bill] in the House," he said.
Another newly elected state representative, Jonathan Stickland, R-Hurst, said, "I'm 100 percent pro-life. If [Perry] wants to ban abortions at any level, I will be supportive of doing so."
But state Rep.-elect Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said Perry should be keeping the focus on more pressing issues about government spending rather than focusing on politically charged social issues.
"Gov. Perry is once again ignoring the issues that matter to Texans, including reversing his devastating cuts to public schools and women's health care, reducing the huge number of uninsured and investing in basic infrastructure so we can grow our economy.
"The next legislative session is far too important to simply become a partisan sideshow in the governor's 2016 presidential campaign."
Staff writer Anna M. Tinsley contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press and The Texas Tribune.