Texas Republicans passed a sweeping bill late Sunday night that would close the vast majority of the state’s abortion clinics and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Democrats pulled out all stops to delay the vote on the restrictive bill, but fell short when at 4 a.m. on Monday morning the House chamber passed SB 5 by a 95-34 margin.
Republican State Representative Jodie Laubenberg, a co-sponsor of SB 5, said, “This bill will ensure that women are given the highest standard of health care in a very vulnerable time in their life.”
Under SB 5, abortions would not be permitted in clinics over 30 miles away from a hospital. Of the state’s 42 abortion clinics, 37 fall under this heading, as the presence of clinics away from major hospitals is meant to reduce travel for women in rural areas. An amendment introduced by Democrats would have expanded that area to 50 miles, but — like several other Democratic amendments introduced during the nine-hour debate on the House floor — it was swiftly voted down by the Republican majority. As a result, if the state Senate approves the bill, almost 90 percent of the state’s abortion clinics will be forced to close.
SB 5 also includes a measure that would require all abortion facilities to update their equipment by 2014. Democrats introduced a measure to postpone this requirement until 2015 to provide the clinics with more time, but this amendment was also voted down. That means that the five abortion clinics left open in the entire state would also see their doors closed if they cannot update their facilities in the next year.
Laubenberg justified the bill on the House floor stating, “At five months, we are talking about a human being, unless you think it’s still a clump of mass…and we have to protect that baby’s rights.” She continued, “Too often the back-alley clinic today is the abortion clinic because of lax standards.”
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, slammed the bill, saying “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 measures.” According to Salon, The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists side with Richards in opposing the bill.
Arguably the most overreaching provision in the bill is one that would restrict abortions to the first 20 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. Democrats introduced another amendment that would require the state to provide scientific evidence that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, but it was also tabled. While the bill explicitly states, “substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization,” no evidence is provided.
In two separate studies, one done by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the other by both Durham and Lancaster Universities in England, demonstrated that unborn babies showed expressions of pain at 24 weeks, not 20.
This is just the latest effort by Texas’ Republican legislature to restrict access to abortion and contraception. Over 800 protestors took to the state capital on Sunday and Monday morning to protest the drastic measure against women’s access to abortion resources. “Everything about the process related to these abortion regulation bills has smelled like partisan politics,” said Houston Democratic representative Jessica Farrar. “Proponents of the bill have failed to demonstrate any evidence that the regulations imposed by these bills are necessary. Nor have they expressed any sign of responsible governance in ensuring that women will continue to be able to access safe and legal abortion care.”
SB 5 will now proceed to the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority. Democrats are expected to try to filibuster the bill once it reaches the Senate floor on Tuesday.
AP Photo/Statesman.com, Rodolfo Gonzalez