Senate panel hears testimony on 3 abortion-related bills

Another session, another day-long hearing on abortion legislation.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee members heard emotional testimony from reproductive rights and anti-abortion advocates on Wednesday over Senate Bill 8, Senate Bill 415 and Senate Bill 258.

SB 8 and SB 258 would change how providers handle fetal tissue, while SB 415 would ban “dismemberment abortions,” a procedure anti-abortion advocates say involves removing an unborn baby from the womb limb by limb.  

Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner, R- Georgetown, kicked off the hearing with discussion of his own bill, SB 8, which would disallow providers from donating tissue that came from an aborted fetus.He cited the Center for Medical Progress’ 2015 videos showing Planned Parenthood employees talking about selling fetal tissue as the reason behind the bill. The bill also aims to ban “partial birth abortions,” which are usually done in the late second trimester of a pregnancy. The procedure is similar to the dilation and extraction method, but the fetus comes out intact.

While the women’s health organization has decried the videos as being heavily edited and misleading, anti-abortion legislators have run with them. Schwertner said the videos were an example of how fetal tissue could be misused for profitable gain.

“What we want to do is get away from profiting motive as well as middlemen dealing with fetal tissue,” Schwertner said.

The hearing kicked off this session’s discussion over abortion-related bills. Reproductive rights advocates are worried at the state and federal level as conservative lawmakers prepare for intensified attacks to limit access to abortion, while anti-abortion lawmakers are examining ways to tighten up restrictions on abortion providers.

Throughout the hearing, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, pressed Schwertner, Sen. Donald Huffines, R-Dallas and Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, on how their bills move reproductive health forward.

“Can you point me to anything in this bill that enhances the pregnant women’s health and safety?” Watson asked each senator.

When talking about his bill, SB 415, Perry said the state has a vested interest in “ending the barbaric practice” of killing the fetus by tearing it apart while it’s still alive. Perry said his bill does not ban the dilation and extraction procedure altogether, but instead requires doctors to terminate the fetus before the surgery is done. If enacted, Texas would be the eighth state to implement the rule.

“A healthy woman is not the target of this bill,” Perry said.  

Meanwhile, Huffines defended his SB 258, which would require the cremation or burial of fetal remains.

The bill is meant to be the legislative backbone of a Texas Department of State Health Services rule that was supposed to go into effect Dec. 19. But a federal judge blocked the rule from being implemented last month after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit at the end of 2016.

Huffines said the legislation “strictly deals with dignity of the unborn” and is not intended to increase the cost of abortions or focus on women’s health.

“There is no cost to the woman unless she makes the elective decision to handle it herself,” Huffines said of the proposed requirements.

Testifiers expressed a combination of anger and sadness throughout the hearing.

Reproductive rights supporters blasted lawmakers for taking up bills that did not enhance access to sexual health services. Many advocates asserted that the bills were a waste of time and energy meant to punish women seeking abortions.

Amanda Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund, a reproductive rights group that helps women access funding for abortions, said legislators should not work on laws that could increase costs for abortions or prevent providers from practicing medicine as they see fit.

“Our state leaders should focus on making sure that all people have the power, resources and community support that they need to make their reproductive decisions a reality and to live their best life,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, several anti-abortion testifiers compared the abortion fight to the Holocaust and said lawmakers were to blame. They largely supported bills promoting the dignity of life, such as SB 8 and SB 258 but were displeased Republicans were not doing more — specifically pointing to SB 415 as an example of how Republicans were willing to regulate how abortions can be done but unwilling to consider bills that would ban the practice altogether.

Several anti-abortion testifiers called on committee members to file a companion bill to Rep. Tony Tinderholt’s House Bill 948, which would stop abortion to “to the fullest extent authorized under federal constitutional law.”

In talking about SB 415, Donna Harrison, executive director for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the practice of dismemberment abortions “is not about the dead fetus but the living fetus” and is not medically necessary.

“It is hard to imagine a more gruesome way to die,” Harrison said. “If veterinarians ripped apart living dogs or cats to kill them in the same way that a living fetus is ripped apart in the [dilation and extraction] procedure, the outcry would be deafening.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas Democrats and abortion rights advocates are strategizing amid mounting worries over what the GOP-led Legislature and federal lawmakers may do in the coming months to further restrict access to the procedure.
  • Reproductive rights advocates have expressed concern that Texas lawmakers will take bolder steps in the upcoming session to defund abortion providers and dismantle access to abortion, birth control and other sexual health services. 
  • U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, delivering another blow to state leaders in the reproductive rights debate. 
  • After three days of testimony from attorneys for the state and Planned Parenthood, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks is letting the reproductive health provider stay in Medicaid until Feb. 21. 


Source: Texas Tribune Blue Left News

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