AUSTIN — Republican and Democratic state senators engaged in an intense debate Thursday over proposed laws to further restrict when, where and how women can get abortions in Texas.
After Gov. Rick Perry called on the special legislative session to consider new abortion laws, Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, laid out an omnibus bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, allowing abortions only in surgical facilities and placing greater restrictions on abortion-inducing medications.
Anti-abortion groups have tremendous influence over conservative Republicans and they have made these bills a priority across the nation. Abortion rights groups complain the new laws are nothing more than additional barriers to women obtaining an abortion and could shut down 90 percent of the abortion clinics in the state.
All of the bills came up in the regular legislative session but never made it to a final vote.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, immediately questioned the legitimacy of the research that suggests a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, which was Hegar’s justification for the ban. He cited a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that disputes prior research showing that a fetus at 20 weeks is capable of feeling pain, and instead states that pain is not experienced until the third trimester. He challenged supporters to produce a more recent study.
Hegar simply insisted that a “significant amount of evidence” exists, but failed to offer specifics.
Senators Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, joined West in challenging the section of Hegar’s bill that only allowed for exceptions when the woman’s life is in danger.
Hegar said he was trying to “balance the needs and the interests to prevent fetuses and small children from suffering pain ... with trying to make sure there is not any kind of harm to women in this state.”
In addition to Hegar’s omnibus Senate Bill 5, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee considered each measure as separate bills by Hegar, Sen. Dan Patrick and Sen. Bob Deuell.
Patrick told the committee that all of the bills were intended to protect women, not stop abortions. Opponents, though, questioned his intentions.
Dozens of individuals representing only themselves testified both in support and in opposition of the measures, many of which have faced legal challenges in other states, particularly the 20-week ban.
The committee was expected to vote on the bills today.