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Texas Omnibus Antiabortion Bill Advances After Heated Overnight Debate

Texas Omnibus Antiabortion Bill Advances After Heated Overnight Debate

June 24, 2013 — Abortion-rights opponents in the Texas Legislature are racing to finalize approval of an omnibus measure (SB 5) before the special session ends on Tuesday, the Texas Tribune reports. The state House tentatively approved the measure 97-33 early Monday morning after nine hours of debate. The Senate will be able to consider the bill 24 hours after the House grants final approval (Grissom et al., Texas Tribune, 6/24).

The measure was amended in a House committee to add a provision -- which was previously removed -- that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a woman's life is in danger (Cardona, "Trail Blazers Blog," Dallas News, 6/23).

The legislation includes three other abortion regulations that failed to progress in either chamber of the 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/19).

Democrats, Abortion-Rights Supporters Attempt To Stall Bill

On Thursday and early into Friday morning, hundreds of abortion-rights supporters tried to stage a "citizen's filibuster" to stall the bill in committee. However, House Affairs Committee Chair Byron Cook (R) restricted witnesses' testimony to an additional two hours -- instead of the usual three minutes per witness -- saying that the testimony had become too repetitive.

According to the AP/U-T San Diego, Cook's decision was the first time "in recent memory" that a chair had used that justification for halting debate. More than 200 people remained waiting on the witness list when Cook ended the hearing at 3:35 a.m. on Friday.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) said, "I'm ashamed at what I saw, because people traveled from all over the state, and there were people on both sides of the issue who came to speak about this, but they were shut down." She added, "They're playing political games within women's health and it's unacceptable" (Tomlinson, AP/U-T San Diego, 6/21).

House Democrats then attempted to stall debate to slow the bill's progression to the Senate, where a filibuster could be staged, according to the Tribune (Muto, Texas Tribune, 6/24). Democrats used parliamentary tactics such as pointing out technical mistakes in the process or offering amendments, but Republicans eventually passed a motion to stop accepting amendments and force a vote.

Key Arguments

The bill's supporters claim it would improve the standard of women's health care, while opponents contend it could shut down 37 of the state's 42 abortion clinics.

Cecile Richards -- president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund -- said, "If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe methods."

The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have all submitted letters urging lawmakers to reject the bill, contending that it would not improve care (AP/Politico, 6/24).