Abortion Bills Take Center Stage in Texas House

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Before the massacre of more than 100 bills in the Texas House on Thursday, lawmakers quietly passed two abortion-related bills that critics say are another move by GOP lawmakers to restrict abortion access in the Lone Star State.

Representatives approved House Bill 2692, which would require hospitals, community health centers, birthing centers and other clinics that perform abortions to release more detailed data on complications associated with the procedure. The clinics would be fined $500 if found to be in violation of the reporting requirements, and the state could revoke a facility’s license upon the third violation.

The bill’s author, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said the measure would “provide a more accurate picture of the effects of abortion in Texas,” because he doesn’t believe that current data is accurate.

Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, pointed out during the debate on the bill Thursday that Texas already requires clinics to report details about abortion complications, including the type of abortion that caused the complication, the name and type of facility where the abortion was performed, and the number of previous live births the patient has had.

Wu said that current data has shown that less than 1 percent of abortion patients experience complications related to the procedure.

The safety of abortion was pointed out by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, when the court struck down a 2013 Texas law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and required the clinics to meet the same minimum standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

“The record also contains evidence indicating that abortions taking place in an abortion facility are safe—indeed, safer than numerous procedures that take place outside hospitals and to which Texas does not apply its surgical-center requirements,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in that decision.

Wu and others asked Capriglione why he was focusing on reporting the complications of abortions instead of other, more risky medical procedures.

“Did you know that an abortion procedure is actually safer than a vasectomy?” asked Rep. Mary Gonzales, D-Clint. “Complications for vasectomies can be as high as 15 percent, so why not pick something that potentially has more complications?”

Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, beefed up the bill by adding an amendment that would require doctors who perform abortions or treat women with complications from the procedure to report those complications to the state within 72 hours.

It also requires the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop an electronic system for providers reporting abortion complications, and to collect information on the date of the woman’s last menstrual cycle, her marital statu, and other personal information.

The House also passed House Bill 3771, which changes the definition of abortion to clarify that surgeries to remove ectopic pregnancies – which occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself somewhere other than inside the uterus – are not considered an abortion under state law. This bill would ensure that ectopic pregnancy patients aren’t subject to the same restrictions as abortion patients, such as state-mandated counseling and forced sonograms.

This bill raised the ire of reproductive-rights activists, because it doesn’t cover other pregnancy-related complications.

In a statement Thursday, Trust Respect Access, a coalition of reproductive-rights organizations, said that, taken together, the two bills “serve only to stigmatize abortion and abortion providers and to shame women seeking abortion.”

“Just last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional two major Texas abortion restrictions, seeing through the lies used to justify the restrictions and siding with doctors, patients, and the majority of Texans who believe that abortion should be accessible in our communities,” the coalition said. “And yet today, we witnessed the same lies being used to justify new anti-abortion laws.”

Earlier in the day, the progressive Texas Freedom Network and the National Partnership for Women and Families announced at a press conference outside of the Capitol the launch of an education campaign called “Lies into Laws,” aimed at exposing the false “scientific” justifications used to pass restrictive abortion laws in the state.

According to a report released Tuesday by the Guttmacher Institute, a national reproductive-rights research and policy organization, Texas is one of two states that lead the nation in adopting anti-abortion restrictions that have no scientific basis. The other is Kansas.

Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, said at Thursday’s press conference that of the more than 20 bills proposed by the Texas legislature this year to restrict access to abortion, most are based on “lies,” adding that one of the proposed bills would even allow doctors to withhold information about fetal abnormalities from pregnant women.

“It’s true, everything is bigger in Texas, including the lies politicians tell in order to shame and punish women who decide on abortion,” Miller said.

Current state law requires abortion providers to give women seeking an abortion information that falsely claims that they will face an increased risk of breast cancer and depression, according to medical and reproductive-rights groups.

Five anti-abortion related bills had been slated to come up for a vote in the Texas House on Thursday, including one that would have defunded Planned Parenthood by prohibiting taxpayer resource transactions with abortion facilities and another bill that would ban partial-birth abortion and require the burial or cremation of fetal tissue following an abortion.

Frustrated that these anti-abortion measures and other legislative priorities had been thrust to the bottom of the calendar, the conservative 12-member House Freedom Caucus maneuvered to disrupt the chamber’s proceedings. The caucus members announced at a press conference Thursday that they were punishing House leadership for what they perceived as the routine obstruction of anti-abortion measures and other priorities.

By running out the clock, the caucus effectively killed more than 100 bills, including ones which would have addressed Texas’ high maternal mortality rate, which many have argued are also, in their own way, “pro-life” bills.

As the legislative session is winding down to a close on May 29, it’s unclear exactly how many abortion-related bills will scrape past both chambers and make it to the governor’s desk.

The next legislative session for Texas lawmakers begins Jan. 8, 2019.

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