"We Are Defining When Life Begins"

Address by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, Delivered on the Floor of the House, May 28, 2003

Introduction

There are ways to address the concerns about injuries to pregnant women that would not jeopardize reproductive freedom for women. Mr. Allen [House sponsor of SB 319, Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie] could have simply enhanced penalties for injuries to pregnant women in which the fetus was either killed or injured because we all recognize this as an unbearable loss and grieve for any woman whose pregnancy is harmed by the actions of someone else.


Intent of SB 319

Texas Right to Life, Texas Alliance for Life, Eagle Forum, Christian Coalition, and other groups who are known to be anti-choice organizations set this bill as their top priority. The Republican Party, in its 2002 state Republican Party platform, states that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life, which cannot be infringed."

If this bill isn't about abortion, then why is this so important to them? Why isn't this bill a law-and-order bill that is endorsed by law-enforcement groups? The truth is, the goal is to have statutes in place that are building blocks or foundations for future legislation, litigation, and the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the 14th Amendment.

This is part of an organized nationwide effort to lay these foundations in other states. No one will be able to secure an abortion for whatever reason. Mr. Allen says this bill has nothing to do with abortion.

But, if Roe v. Wade falls, and this bill is law, any and all abortions in Texas would be illegal, whether or not a woman's life was threatened, she was a victim of rape or incest, or had a fetal anomaly which could mean the fetus had no possibility of living.

No one seems to say that's what this is about. Mr. Allen says this is not an abortion bill. Mr. Allen and supporters of SB 319 will say that there are exclusions for abortion and other legal medical procedures, but if Roe v. Wade falls, these exceptions fall with it, leaving us with this on the books. And if it wasn't about that, they would be willing to budge on the definition of the individual. This bill is about legislating when life begins and when personhood begins. This is a religious position. We would essentially be adopting one religious position as the law for the rest of the state.

With this bill, we are defining when life begins. Yet currently, the law says one has to be born to receive rights. One has to be born to receive inheritance, to be counted in the census or to receive citizenship.


SB 319 and Viability

Mr. Allen made reference to the tragedy of the [Laci] Peterson [murder] case. Our hearts go out to her family and loved ones who understandably are grieving their loss. That case, though, is about violence against women. And, I would remind Mr. Allen and the members that California's statute is post-viability, that the fetus is capable of living outside the womb, and that is why Peterson's accused killer could be charged with double homicide. Her fetus was viable. It was not a fertilized egg. A fertilized egg has no guarantee of being born.

We would've been happy to have reached an agreement with Mr. Allen to have laws similar to California's, but Mr. Allen is intent on defining life at fertilization despite the fact that his bill does nothing to improve the safety of women. In fact, there are not even any increases in penalties. California isn't the only state that uses the statutory language of viability. Other states include: Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina. In fact, only five states extend rights of personhood to fetuses [Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, South Dakota, and West Virginia].


Amendment

This bill doesn't have to be and shouldn't be an abortion bill. I filed a similar bill, HB 1589, this session that would get us to where Mr. Allen wants to go without making this about abortion. It never received a hearing. I'm offering it now as an amendment, since everyone wasn't here late Monday night on second reading, and I think you should at least be offered this option. And, some of us made promises while campaigning that although we are personally pro-life, we wouldn't stand in the way of Roe v. Wade.

It [the amendment] says that if a pregnant woman is injured and is caused to have a miscarriage or stillbirth, she can bring action against her assailant. It focuses on the woman and does not define life. It provides for remedies if her pregnancy was caused to end by another person. It also enhances criminal penalties where Mr. Allen's bill does not. ... Civilly, it includes compensatory damages [and] exemplary damages.

In fact, on the civil side, the only thing Mr. Allen's bill does is allow for third-party persons besides the parents to bring suit. Now, why would there be need for an outside party to be able to bring suit? The bill says that if a parent doesn't bring action within three months, an executor or administrator can. I've heard over and over this session about the importance of parental rights yet this bill would allow for an outsider, unrelated to the victim, to file a petition to bring a lawsuit.

Mr. Speaker, on this vote I ask that members vote only themselves.

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