Texas Abortion Bill: The Whole Country Should Pay Attention to It

A Texas anti-abortion bill is rising from the minds of Republicans and the proselytizing work of Gov. Rick Perry. This week in Texas there has been a dust up about abortion rights that are being passed over by the mainstream media. On Thursday, 700 protesters came out to speak up against HB60 and HB16, two bills which seek to limit access to abortion by placing ridiculous limitations on clinics, including hallway size. The fundamental right for a woman or trans man to control their own bodies should be everyone’s concern.

Julie Gillis, a writer and performer and activist who focuses on women's issues in Austin, Texas, describes a special session was called to push through an Omnibus bill on abortions which would effectively close all but 5 in the state. The bill came up in the House on Thursday and hundreds and hundreds of citizens gathered to give testimony on how badly the bill would affect Texans. There were at least 13 hours of testimony to hear, but Representative Byron Cook cut off the testimony in the early hours of the morning due to the testimony being "repetitive." This caused outrage and even more motivation for protesters to show up at the Capitol on Sunday for a long day into night hearing.

Usually, elected officials have at least some notion about the bills they are sponsoring, but here in HB23, HB60 (now SB5) where the topics are abortion, the Preborn Pain Act, Health and Human Services Commission, and the Medical board of Texas don't be so sure. The votes are largely theological rather than informed by science. If passed they will affect millions of Texas women, primarily low income or women in rural areas. Women of color will be disproportionally affected by this bill. Thirty-seven out of the 42 abortion clinics in the state of Texas would close.    

Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz weighs in on some of the reasoning behind the bill including the argument that a fetus feels pain after 20 weeks, "I don't think there is any way to document pain in a fetus- or in any being that cannot articulate to us in a language we can understand, and as many have pointed out, a pain reflex arc or a neurological response to any stimulus for that matter is a brain stem function — NOT a cortical brain function."

As for the percentage of abortions that occur after 20 weeks Gilberg-Lenz cites research from the Guttmacher Institute, “approx. 3-5% of abortions occur from 16-19 weeks and between 0.5-1.1% after 20 weeks — these are NEVER elective — they are ALWAYS for fetal anomalies — many which are incompatible with life or with any quality of life- it is also extremely cruel- many women don't even find out there is a serious problem the pregnancy until their 20 week anatomy scan — (optimal ultrasound visualization of the heart structures are at or beyond 20 weeks) some at 21 or 22 weeks — they need time to consult with experts and find resources — very few docs are trained, proficient and WILLING to do late term abortions — it requires considerable skill — this may take a few weeks to get done.”

When Perry placed SB 5 on the special session agenda, his office released this statement:

“The horrors of the national late-term abortion industry are continuing to come to light, one atrocity at a time. Sadly, some of those same atrocities happen in our own state … We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause.”

By this logic, Perry intends to force every pregnant person in the state to carry the pregnancy through regardless of the advice of doctors and with no acceptations for rape or incest survivors.

“Banning is a punishment, NOT a deterrent,” says Gilberg-Lenz. The prevention of unwanted pregnancy or ending unplanned pregnancy is not what termination after 20 weeks is about. “This demonstrates the sponsoring legislators' complete lack of medical understanding AND/OR hatred for vulnerable women/complete and total cynicism.”

The Democrats are moving to block the bill, and planning for a filibuster led by Sen. Wendy Davis. 

“I think we are now in a position to try to do what’s right for the women of this state,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, (D-Austin), chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “We need to be protecting women’s health in this state, and we need to be protecting a woman’s right to make choices about her body.”

There has been outrageous commentary by some officials including Conservative Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg who explained that, "In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out." This of course is wrong.

It has been well-established that banning abortion does not prevent abortion it only prevents safe abortion. In fact, a new study illustrated that abortion rates are higher in countries where the procedure is illegal. Gillis stresses that education, access to birth control and a social safety net that provides fair wages, ethical practices, and health services would do far more to lower the abortion rate than an outright ban which denies people the ability to make the life decisions that are best for them and their family.

All progressive people invested in the lives of anyone who is able to get pregnant needs to be keeping their eyes on Texas, which has proven to be a testing ground for American conservative policy.