State lawmakers have filed 30 abortion-related bills and at least two dozen of those proposals aim to add restrictions during the 2017 legislative session.
The first bills relating to abortion came up in the Health and Human Services Senate Committee hearing Wednesday and none of the three claim to protect women’s health.
Texas Republicans appear to be focused on the fetus this session, women. The difference is a significant shift in strategy after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s sweeping abortion regulations in the summer of 2016.
The high court overturned Texas’ 2013 law known as HB2, which Republican lawmakers presented as a safeguard to protect women.
“My bill is not about that,” said State Sen. Don Huffines, the Dallas Republican behind a bill that would require fetal remains be either buried or cremated. “My bill is strictly deals with the dignity of the unborn and that is a profound purpose for the state of Texas,” Huffines said.
The first abortion-related bills taken up by Texas lawmakers all faced the same question, asked by a Democrat on the Senate Committee. “What about this bill enhances the health and safety of the woman?”
“The health of the woman is not the target of SB 415,” State Sen. Charles Perry answered.
The Lubbock Republican and the author of Senate Bill 415 added, “There is no evidence” to suggest that the bill “would be contrary to the health of the woman.”
The proposal prohibits the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions—as long as the fetus has a heartbeat.
“If we are going to allow these procedures, then the baby shouldn’t suffer pain and actually die from the physical dismemberment of their body,” Perry said.
The medical term for this type of abortion is dilation and evacuation, or D&E, but the bill refers to the procedure as “dismemberment abortion.”
What’s considered standard practice for late-term abortions, doctors remove the fetus in pieces using a combination of suction and instruments.
Perry said the bill does not ban D&E abortions, the legislation requires doctors terminate the pregnancy and verify there is no heartbeat before the fetal issue is “dismembered” and removed from the womb.
Opponents argue the bill would make the procedure less safe for women.
“It takes the surgical instruments out of the physician’s hands,” said Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.
“There is additional risk involved when you induce fetal demise,” Rocap said.
Under the bill, doctors who do not ensure the fetus no longer has a heartbeat would face criminal charges.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, questioned Perry about the bill. Watson asked, “This legal procedure will subject someone to prosecution under the penal code for a form of homicide?”
Perry said yes, if doctors “do not terminate the baby before they do the dismemberment.”
Perry said there are “plenty of alternatives” doctors could use to comply with his proposal but pro-choice activists questioned what those other methods would mean for Texas women.
“One of his alternatives was induction of labor which definitely involves hospitalization,” Rocap said. “That is not a reasonable alternative to the safest, most common method.”
The D&E method is typically done after about 14 weeks of gestation, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Current state law allows surgical abortions up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy, unless a woman’s life is in danger or severe fetal abnormalities are discovered.
Called to testify in support of SB 415, Dr. Donna Harrison cited studies that suggest a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.
Executive Director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Harrison said, “It is hard to imagine a more gruesome way to die.”
Harrison continued, “If veterinarians ripped apart living dogs or cats to kill them in the same way that a living fetus is ripped apart in the D&E procedure the outcry would be deafening.”
Pro-life activists said now is the time to push the envelope on abortion restrictions, hopeful President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee will help uphold abortion restrictions.
A lawyer who testified in support of Sen. Perry’s bill said, “The likelihood this bill will be upheld is high.”
Sen. Perry echoed that optimism. “It is clear that our current administration is going to elect people to the Supreme Court that believe in life, that protect life, so if that aspect it’s encouraging,” Perry said.
After about eight hours of discussion and that included public testimony from about 150 people, the committee adjourned without voting on the proposals.
The bill that pro-choice activists said won’t have much of an impact comes from the Chairman of the Health and Human Services Senate Committee, Republican Sen. Charles Schwertner.
Called the “Pre-Born Protection and Dignity Act,” Senate Bill 8 would ban the sale and research of fetal tissue from elective abortions.
“To make it very clear, the State of Texas will not accept and will not tolerate monetary gain from fetal tissue donation,” Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.
Schwertner pointed to the widely discredited videos taken by anti-choice activists as the reasoning behind the bill.
The heavily edited, secretly recorded videos claimed to show Planned Parenthood, the largest country’s largest abortion provider, profiting from the sale of donated fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has denied any wrong doing and investigations in more than a dozen states resulted in no criminal charges.
According to abortion providers in the state, fetal tissue donation is uncommon in Texas.
SB 8 would also ban partial-birth abortions in Texas— a type of late-term abortion that was outlawed in the U.S. more than a decade ago.
Signed into federal law by President George W. Bush in 2003, the Partial-Birth Abortion Act made the procedure illegal.