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What to Expect in the House Abortion Debate

Reps will gather today at 10am
Jordan Smith, 8:29am, Tue. Jul. 9, 2013
Illustration by Jason Stout

With its easy passage out of committee last week, the full House is set this morning to hold its first debate on House Bill 2, the sweeping abortion regs bill filed by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker. Though the votes are clearly there for the bill to move forward, there are still moves for House Dems to make to try to lessen the proposal's blow.

Unless they break quorum – and then stay away for three long, hot summer weeks – there's little doubt the measure, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, require abortion clinics to upgrade to ambulatory surgical centers, and place additional restrictions on abortion-performing doctors and the practice of medical abortion, will pass, as early as tomorrow.

In the meantime, however, expect House Dems to do what they can to stall the measure, derail it, and/or to amend it in an effort to mitigate its impact. Indeed, in addition to HB 2, and its Senate companion, SB 1(considered last night in marathon committee hearing), lawmakers have filed a host of other measures that are likely to be brought into the mix as possible amendments to the bill. Some of those are measures that would further restrict access, or make abortion access more onerous – consider Katy Republican Rep. Bill Callegari's bid to create a "coerced abortion form" wherein a woman must aver prior to having the procedure that she is doing so of her own free will, or Fort Worth GOP Rep. Matt Krause's redoubled effort to further restrict judicial bypass for juveniles seeking access to abortion.

But there are also measures that have been filed by Dem lawmakers that would try to lessen the blow of the base bill, which may be offered as amendments – and would force members to vote against proposals that would do things like increase access to health care, expand abstinence-plus sex education, or to require medically accurate information to be provided in the Women's Right to Know pamphlet that is required to be given to each woman seeking abortion.

Among the specific proposals that have been filed this session is a measure from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that would strike from current law the 24-hour waiting period before a woman can seek abortion that was codified with the 2003 WRTK informed consent law. Indeed, as currently written, HB 2 is likely to result in the closure of all but five of the state's 42 abortion-providing facilities, because of its onerous requirement that every clinic transform by September 2014 into an expensive-to-build ambulatory surgical center. If that happens, the distances between the remaining providers would become extreme – in testimony last week, for example, a UT researcher noted that women in El Paso would have to travel more than 1,000 miles round-trip for services should the bill pass. Eliminating the 24-hour waiting period would also eliminate the need for multiple long trips or for women to have to find additional resources, and time, to stay overnight near a clinic.

Also likely to be raised as a possible amendment is a measure filed by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown (filed in the Senate too, and supported by all 11 Democratic lawmakers there), that would require the state to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program Perinatal Program to include six visits in the six months post-delivery. That would at least insure that newborns and mothers have access to some form of health care. As it stands, 25% of all Texans are uninsured, including some 17% of children.

Whether lawmakers would approve these mitigating measures is unclear, though, given history, and Gov. Rick Perry's clearly stated goal of this second-called special session, not entirely likely (indeed, even less likely to pass is Houston Dem Rep. Harold Dutton's proposal that no additional abortion restrictions could legally take effect until after the attorney general certifies in the Texas Register that the state has abolished the death penalty).

The debate on HB 2 gets under way shortly after the House convenes this morning at 10am.

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