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'Chipping Away': A Texas Abortion Rights Timeline

By Jordan Smith, Fri., June 28, 2013

Legal abortion rights began in Texas with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in the Texas case Roe v. Wade, which confirmed that the "right to privacy" cleared the way for a woman's right to choose. Accordingly, foes of reproductive choice would like to see those rights end here in Texas with Senate Bill 5. Had it passed, they'd be that much closer to seeing that happen – provided, of course, the federal courts agree. Here's a brief look back at a decade of chipping away at the central holding in Roe – the main strategy anti-choice advocates and lawmakers have used.

2003: Abortions after 16 weeks must now be performed in an ambulatory [i.e., outpatient] sur­gery center. Also enacted: a 24-hour waiting period (very burdensome, especially in rural areas) and the "Woman's Right to Know" pamphlet, which codified medical misinformation in an effort to persuade women to carry a fetus to term.

2005: A ban on "late-term" abortions – there are very few of these, but the restrictions also have the effect of delaying a woman's access. The 79th Legislature also enacted:

a requirement of parental notification for underage girls seeking abortion;

funding restrictions on family planning in an effort to close Planned Parenthood clinics;

the Alternatives to Abortion Program to "promote childbirth"; using funds previously dedicated to family planning programs.

2007: Abortion opponents propose a "mandatory ultrasound" procedure for women seeking an abortion; that proposal dies, but funding is increased for Alternatives to Abortion Program.

2009: Funding scheme is proposed to "prioritize" which health care organizations receive family planning funding, with the goal of defunding Planned Parenthood clinics, though abortion services are a very small part of their overall health care services. That measure fails, as does another attempt at mandatory ultrasounds.

2010: The beginning of the end for Planned Parent­hood involvement in the Women's Health Pro­gram: The state moves to define all PP clinics, whether they provide abortions or not, as "affiliates" of abortion providers, in order to defund and prevent them from providing non-abortion, family planning care to women in need of birth control.

2011: Lege defunds family planning, puts in place funding schemes begun in 2005, enacts more restrictions that had failed in 2009 – including mandatory ultrasounds – and begins the move to defund the Women's Health Program and replace it with a state-funded, abortion-banning alternative.

2012: Many family planning clinics close, leaving tens of thousands of Texas women without access to birth control and other family planning services; a move to enact more onerous abortion reporting requirements is considered by Dept. of State Health Services when similar legislative moves fail.

2013: Following defunding of WHP, more than 100,000 Texas women continue to go without access to basic health care as well as birth control; Planned Parenthood is excluded from all state-funded health care programs. Additional restrictions on abortion rights and clinic procedures fail to pass during regular legislative session. Gov. Rick Perry adds them to the call midway through the 30-day special session, leading to the drama just before sine die, midnight Tuesday, June 25. The four major restrictions that were under consideration in SB 5:

No abortions after 20 weeks gestation, the unsubstantiated "fetal pain" threshold (fewer than 500 such abortions occur in Texas each year).

All abortions must be performed in an ambu­latory surgical center, imposing burdensome and unnecessary costs on outpatient clinics.

All doctors performing abortions must have hospital privileges within 30 miles of the clinic, a severe restriction in rural areas.

Women seeking a medical abortion (i.e., early term and drug-induced) must have two in-person meetings with the doctor.

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