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UPDATE: Abortion Bill Passes House

Dems expected to offer mitigating amendments
Jordan Smith, 9:51pm, Tue. Jul. 9, 2013
Illustration by Jason Stout

UPDATE:House Republican lawmakers tonight gave preliminary approval to controversial and sweeping abortion regulations bill known as House Bill 2. The House will reconvene tomorrow morning to consider the bill for final passage. The measure will then move to the Senate for debate and vote.

PREVIOUS:Republican lawmakers have so far cut short consideration of all proposed amendments to House Bill 2, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg's sweeping abortion regulations bill.

Laubenberg, R-Parker, has repeatedly said that her bill is "carefully written" and that she isn't inclined to accept any tweaks.

The bill would ban all abortion after 20 weeks (based on notion that a fetus feels pain at that point), require all abortion clinics to transform into expensive-to-build ambulatory surgical centers, would require doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of each facility where they perform abortions, and would have the state mandate the manner in which medical abortions can be administered.

Laubenberg's decision not to accept any amendments is, of course, an issue for Democratic lawmakers – and a few Republicans – who believe that the bill, as written, is unconstitutional and will not stand up to court challenge. As such, a series of lawmakers have offered amendments that they have said they believe would cure the bill of its defects.

Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, and Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, each offered an amendment that would create an exception to the 20-week rule for victims of rape and incest. "You're getting ready to pass legislation that is unconstitutional," Davis told her colleagues. "I believe in and care about the rights of women and the rights of the unborn, and protecting them within the confines of the Constitution." The House has a chance to pass "legislation that will protect the unborn, which so many of my colleagues claim to want to do," she continued. "I know we've been told to keep the bill clean, to fight off all amendments, but the world is watching...so now is not the time to play political football with women."

Davis' amendment was subsequently abandoned when the House voted table it – as lawmakers have done with every other amendment since offered. Rep Rafael Anchia,D-Dallas, offered an amendment that would clarify that doctors have discretion to decide when a woman's life is in jeopardy such that an exception to the 20-week ban could be granted. Not necessary, said Laubenberg.

Laubenberg has also opposed an amendment from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that would have made the standards for abortion-providing doctors the same as those who perform other procedures at ASCs. ASCs regulations require doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital or a written transfer agreement; HB 2 would take away the second option instead requiring only abortion doctors to have admitting privileges.

That's right, because abortion is a "very different kind of procedure – much different than having your tonsils out," Laubenberg replied. It's the "only procedure that when it's done a life has been taken." Are there more medical complications involved in abortion that would necessitate the singling out of abortion providers, Howard asked. "I'm not advised of that," Laubenberg said. That amendment too, was tabled.

(Additional amendments have also been offered – to require comprehensive sex education, to excise all but the 20-week ban, to reimburse women for travel expenses should they have to travel far for healthcare because of local clinic closures – and all have been rejected.)

Ultimately, Anchia, Davis, and others have argued, to leave the bill as currently written – with only narrowly limited exceptions for a woman's life and well-being, and with onerous requirements that could, potentially, create a de facto ban on abortion in the state – is to seal its fate as legally unenforeable. "The way this bill is drafted is flawed," Anchia told Laubenberg. "It will not survive Constitutional muster."

With a reported 19 more amendments to consider, debate on the House floor is ongoing.

EARLIER:Lawmakers have voted to table an amendment to the sweeping abortion regulations bill, House Bill 2 (filed by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg) creating an exception to a 20-week ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest.

On a 90-54 vote, an amendment by Rep. Senfronia Thompson,D-Houston, to create an exception in cases of sexual violence was rejected by the House. Thompson took the front lectern – a golden and bejeweled hanger pin attached to her jacket – bearing a wire coat hanger, knitting needle, and bottle of turpentine, all home-abortion remedies that she says will be used if the bill passes as written.

Laubenberg was unmoved: the 20-week ban is needed because that's when a baby can feel pain – and that's what the bill is trying to eliminate."

What about the pain a woman who has been raped feels, asked Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. "Who feels the woman's pain?"

The woman does, Laubenberg replied.

After the first amendment was defeated Rep. Sarah Davis,R-West University Place, took the front mic to offer her version of an exception amendment, one that would keep the 20-week ban in place, but would create exceptions to the bill in cases of rape or incest and in where there is a risk that a woman might inflict on herself serious bodily harm or death. If those exceptions are accepted, she said, she believes the bill would pass Constitutional muster. "I am deeply sensitive to this issue," she said, but there "have got to be some exceptions."

Debate on Davis' amendment is ongoing.

PREVIOUSLY:Debate over the sweeping, and controversial abortion regulations bill, House Bill 2 by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, is getting underway now in the Texas House. Dems are expected to offer amendments; Laubenberg says she's not interested

The bill is "about protecting the health and safety of a woman undergoing abortion" and "about an unborn child who has pain, who has the nerve endings, receptors, that can feel the pain of abortion," says Laubenberg.

The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks, require clinics to transform by fall 2014 to expensive-to-built ambulatory surgical centers, and would further restrict abortion-performing doctors and increase requirements for medical abortion.

She's ready to move for passage, but Dems are ready at the back mic with questions, and presumably, amendments – but first, a point of inquiry from Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, pointing out that since it's not in the last five days of the session the time to debate can be extended.

And with that, they're off.

Updates will be added as the debate proceeds.

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