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Texas House Advances Abortion Restrictions After Rejecting 22 Amendments

Texas House Advances Abortion Restrictions After Rejecting 22 Amendments

July 10, 2013 — The Texas House on Tuesday gave provisional approval to a sweeping antiabortion-rights bill (HB 2) after tabling 22 proposed amendments, the Texas Tribune reports (Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 7/9). A final vote is scheduled for Wednesday, after which the measure will advance to the Senate, where the Republican majority is expected to approve the bill (AP/Politico, 7/9).

The measure includes four abortion regulations that failed to progress in either chamber of the Legislature during the regular session: a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a woman's life is in danger, 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.

State Senate Republicans failed to pass the legislation during the first special session after state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) filibustered it for more than 10 hours and a crowd of abortion-rights supporters further stalled the voting past a deadline. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) then called lawmakers back for a second special session (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/2).

Amendments Rejected

The bill passed Tuesday after about 10 hours of debate, during which opponents proposed 22 unsuccessful amendments.

One amendment -- offered by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) -- would have required evidence-based sex education in public schools and exempted minors who did not receive sex education from the 20-week abortion ban. Other amendments would have exempted women with severe mental illness from the 20-week ban and required the state to reimburse travel costs for women who had to travel more than 30 miles for abortion services (Texas Tribune, 7/9).

During debate, opponents argued that HB 2 would effectively ban abortion in the state and close 37 of the state's 42 abortion clinics. State Rep. Sarah Davis (R) -- who proposed an amendment to ease the restrictions -- said, "I believe the bill as drafted will be a de facto ban on abortion." She added, "No one wants to see abortions, ... but it is a constitutionally protected right."

Supporters argued that the bill was necessary to protect women. State Rep. Jody Laubenberg (R) -- the bill's sponsor -- said, "What we're talking about today truly is about the health and safety of a woman who could undergo an abortion, but also, I want to point out, we are talking about an unborn child" (AP/Politico, 7/9). Laubenberg had said when she proposed the bill that she would not accept any amendments (Texas Tribune, 7/9).

Planned Parenthood Launches Bus Tour

Supporters and opponents of the bill continued protests at the Texas Capitol during debate over the bill. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) addressed the bill's supporters on Monday evening, while the Planned Parenthood Action Fund launched a Stand with Texas Women bus tour across the state to draw attention to the issues (Schwartz, New York Times, 7/9).

Cecile Richards -- president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America -- said, "It seems like every time women looked up from doing their laundry [or] helping children with their homework, the Texas Legislature is right there taking aim at them again" (AP/Politico, 7/9). She added, "It's time to get the Texas Legislature out of our examination rooms" (New York Times, 7/9).

Senators Develop Sex Education Proposal

Meanwhile, state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) is working with other senators to convert two proposed sex education measures (SB 25, SB 26) into amendments that could be added to the Senate version (SB 1) of the abortion bill.

The first measure would require that schools teaching anything beyond abstinence-only sex education use evidence-based and medically accurate materials. The second measure would maintain a focus on abstinence but require that public schools offer comprehensive, evidence-based sex education (McGee, KUT News, 7/9).

A Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to consider HB2 and likely will advance the bill for a Senate floor vote on Friday or Monday (New York Times, 7/9).

Separately, the Texas Freedom Network on Tuesday plans to submit a petition of more than 5,000 signatures to Perry requesting that he add sex education legislation to the special session's schedule (KUT News, 7/9).