Omnibus Antiabortion Bill Advances During Texas Special Session; Lawmakers Separate 20-Week Provision

June 19, 2013 — The Texas Senate during a special session on Tuesday approved an omnibus antiabortion-rights bill (SB 5) after removing a provision that would have prohibited the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, KUT News reports (Shaar/Zaragovia, KUT News, 6/18).

The remaining provisions include three abortion regulations that failed to progress in either chamber of the Texas Legislature during the regular session: a requirement that abortions be performed at an ambulatory surgical center, a mandate that physicians administer medication abortion drugs in person and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Lawmakers approved an amendment by the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R), that removed the provision that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although Hegar supports the 20-week ban, he said it was necessary to remove it to facilitate passage of the omnibus bill in the House. Hegar filed the 20-week abortion ban separately in the special session as SB 13 (Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 6/18).

The legislation now advances to the House, where it is expected to pass (Mildenberg/Deprez, Bloomberg, 6/19). To reach Gov. Rick Perry (R), who also supports it, the bill must be approved in both chambers before the special session ends on Tuesday, the Texas Tribune notes.

Senate Rejects Democratic Amendments

The Republican-controlled Senate rejected a series of Democratic amendments, including a measure that would have exempted medication abortion from the requirement that abortions be performed at a surgical facility. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D) also offered an amendment that would have dropped a requirement that physicians follow FDA guidelines for medication abortion drugs. De Putte noted the guidelines are outdated and inconsistent with medical practice.

Additionally, lawmakers rejected a proposal that would have delayed the surgical facility requirements until 2015, as well as a provision that would have exempted abortion facilities that primarily serve rural communities and are more than 50 miles from other clinics. Democratic proposals that would have increased financing for women's health services, expanded Medicaid coverage and increased evidence-based sex education in public schools also failed.

Key Arguments

State Sen. Kirk Watson (D) noted that during the regular session, the individual bills failed to garner support from two-thirds of lawmakers, as is required for passage. Watson criticized Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) for suspending the two-thirds rule in the special session, saying, "It's wrong to try to resurrect [the bill] now through a loophole" (Texas Tribune, 6/18).

Supporters of the omnibus bill said it would make women safer, while opponents argued the new regulations are really designed to close clinics by making it too costly for them to comply.

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby said clinics located outside major metropolitan areas would be forced to close unless they undergo renovations to meet the new requirements. She noted that state law already requires abortions after 16 weeks to occur at an ambulatory center.

The Guttmacher Institute's Elizabeth Nash said the bill would "reshape the abortion landscape in Texas," adding, "This would make it much more difficult for women to have access to women's health care, because longer distances mean more time off [from] work and more challenges in arranging child care" (Bloomberg, 6/19).