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Protecting Women? Deuell Knows Best

The Lege moves to put more restrictions on abortion clinics

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 22, 2013

 Sen. Robert Deuell
Sen. Robert Deuell

According to Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, requiring abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers would ensure that women seeking abortion are afforded the "highest standard" of health care. At a contentious hearing Tuesday in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Deuell stuck to that line, even as advocates opposed to the bill explained why they believe the measure will actually force abortion providers to shutter their operations, thereby reducing access to safe abortion.

Under Deuell's SB537, Texas abortion clinics would be required to adopt the same standards that apply to the state's ambulatory surgical centers, which provide a host of procedures – from plastic surgery to endoscopy – for patients on a "day surgery" basis. To Deuell, the bill is a proposal "simply to protect" Texas women who choose abortion. "I don't think abortion should be legal," he said, but the state owes it to women to "take all precautions."

There are 416 ambulatory surgical centers across the state, but just five that provide abortions. Of the 72,470 abortions performed in Texas in 2011, just 16,237 were performed at ambulatory surgical centers; the great majority (55,876) were performed at abortion clinics. Currently, there are just 37 licensed abortion clinics statewide – of those, just 11 offer surgical abortions, with the remaining providing pharmaceutical abortion, according to the Health and Human Services Commission.

Supporters of the bill say the regulations would ensure that women have access to the highest standard of care and emergency protection. The strident theme of "protecting the women" dominated the hearing – from committee members who will no doubt support the measure regardless of the evidence. Yet complications from surgical abortion are reported in just .05% of cases, testified Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. There is simply "no demonstrated need" for the greater level of regulation of abortion facilities that are already heavily regulated. (The state already requires abortions later than 16 weeks to be performed in a surgical center.)

The real purpose behind the bill, suggests Busby, is to regulate abortion clinics out of business – a backdoor way to ban abortion. "The real issue here is access," Busby said. Deuell's bill is not about safety, she said, but about denying access. Deuell bristled; his life has been "dedicated to bettering the health of people," he replied. And if the new regulation "saves the life of one woman, then I say it's worth it."

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