AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Legislature is back, and so are more proposals to restrict abortions.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry has told lawmakers that he expects more anti-abortion laws during the 2013 session to work toward his goal "to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past." Anti-abortion activists have pledged to use every legal means possible to make obtaining abortions difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
Last session Perry signed into law two measures, one requiring doctors to conduct trans-vaginal sonograms before performing an abortion, and another banning groups that support abortion rights from participating in state-funded health programs. This year he wants to further curtail when a woman can have an abortion, a law that courts have blocked in Georgia, Oklahoma and Arizona.
"We ... need to better protect our most vulnerable citizens, the unborn, by expanding the ban on abortion to any baby that can feel the pain of the procedure, and putting in place common-sense oversights on clinics and physicians involved," Perry told lawmakers on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session.
The so-called fetal pain bill relies on controversial claims that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks of gestation. Under current law, states can only ban abortions after 24 weeks.
Women's rights activists point to scientific studies that find no evidence to support the claim. Tarrant County Sen. Wendy Davis opposes the effort to "chip away" at a woman's right to choose.
"This bill, which is not grounded in sound science, represents just one more effort to intercede in decisions best made by a woman and her doctor," Davis said. "Because these so-called small government advocates won't acknowledge that a woman's right to choose is the law of the land, they're reduced to expanding government into women's health care decisions."
Lawmakers have passed similar bills in Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Idaho, Alabama and Nebraska. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the law and federal judges in Georgia and Arizona have blocked enforcement of the measure there. The courts determined the laws infringe on a woman's civil rights.
Janet Crepps, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the laws are part of a national anti-abortion strategy.
"We really disagree with the science and we feel this is nothing more than a sensational attempt to limit access to abortion based on bad science," Crepps said, citing recent research as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "This is clearly part of an agenda to stop women from accessing abortion, and in Texas in particular, I think you've seen a very hostile Legislature against reproductive rights."
The measure is just one of Texas Right to Life's priorities for the 83rd Legislature. They also want to take away a judge's authority to allow teenage girls, under certain circumstances, to have an abortion without their parent's permission. They also want a ban on abortion coverage in insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.
"Until our elected servants recognize that their first duty is to protect the life of each conceived human being, Texas Right to Life will not stop pushing for new Pro-Life laws," the group said.
Ardent ant-abortion activist Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe medications that induce abortions by adding a number of new requirements. The doctor must have a contract with another physician who promises to treat any emergencies arising from the drug, must designate a hospital where the emergency would be treated and the emergency physician must have admitting, gynecological, and surgical privileges at the hospital.
These requirements, among others in the bill, make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe these medications, particularly in rural areas. Advocates argue the law would protect women however critics point out that medically-induced abortions rarely result in complications and the law is designed only to make abortions more difficult to obtain.
Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, has introduced a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions based on the gender of the child. The practice has been common in China, where parents are restricted from having more than one child, but public health reports give no indication it's a problem in Texas.
On the Internet:
Senate Bill 97 on abortion inducing medications: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=SB97
House Bill 309 on prohibiting abortions based on gender: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=HB309