Senate Committee Prepares For Long Night of Anti-Abortion Bill Testimony

At around 11 a.m. this morning, panels of testifiers spoke before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to share their thoughts on the highly controversial omnibus abortion-restrictive, Senate Bill 1, during the second called Legislative special session. The hearing, and outpouring of interested speakers– coming to the Capitol by the hundreds and even thousands–is one in a string of Legislative meetings in which the public has delivered passionate and oftentimes, intimate personal stories in hopes legislators would vote for or against the bill.

Senate Bill 1 (formerly "SB 5" during the first special session) would outlaw abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, mandate outdated protocol for abortion-inducing drugs, require hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors and force abortion clinics to comply with the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

In the past few weeks, thousands of pro-choice activists have come to the Capitol to testify and protest anti-abortion bills. Photo by Mary Tuma.

Before testimony began, Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) made his opinion clear by likening the number of abortions performed in the U.S. to an “American Holocaust.” Deuell, a family physician, placed two sets of baby shoes on the committee dais as a reminder of all those who are unable to speak today.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) sought to include an amendment that would change “substantial medical evidence” in the bill to “some” medical evidence, a more accurate representation of the minimal data backing the 20-week so-called ‘fetal pain’ abortion ban. Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) offered to include exceptions for rape and incest in the legislation. Bill author Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) shot down both amendments.

The ASC requirement, which would close all but five abortion clinics in the state, has been criticized by health professionals and some lawmakers for being unnecessary. Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) vocalized his concern for women who may be forced to make the dangerous journey to Jaurez, Mexico for an abortion if the bill were to become law. Aside from one ASC in San Antonio, Uresti made note that he expects no abortion centers in his district to survive the costly upgrades. Hegar, with no substantial evidence to back up the claim, said he couldn’t guarantee all centers would remain open but said he didn’t think all of the 37 non-ASC clinics would close.

Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman’s Health, a reproductive healthcare network, oversees the ASC in San Antonio as well as four abortion centers in the state. She reiterated the requirement is unnecessary and that abortion is already well-regulated. Expensive upgrades like expanded hallways, new airflow systems, locker room showers and janitor closets would not increase or even affect the safety of the abortion procedure.

“Abortion didn’t start with Roe v. Wade­–safe abortions did,” said Miller.

Ellen Cooper of the Department of State Health Services made another appearance, delivering information expressed at last week’s House committee hearing, where SB1’s counterpart House Bill 2 passed in a 8-3 vote. Cooper says abortion facilities are inspected every year while ASCs receive an audit every three to up to six years. In other words, if the bill became law, Republicans would have a difficult time making the case the legislation actually increases abortion regulation, the ostensive goal of the bill.

Rodriguez made the point early on that the bills aren’t tied to specific conditions in Texas, rather the similarity among related legislation in other states indicates they are born from and being clearly promoted by a national agenda. The Current recently reported on the possible influence national anti-choice group, Americans United for Life, has had on the bill text.

Chair Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) said a vote on the bill would not be taken at the end of the hearing, which is expected to last well into the night.

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