Texas Governor Rick Perry will almost certainly sign the far-reaching abortion restrictions that the Texas House of Representatives just passed. PHOTO: Gage Skidmore, CC License
The Texas House of Representatives approved a bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy and require more stringent restrictions around abortion clinics, restrictions which would close or require the rebuilding of around 80% of Texas abortion clinics. Amendments to make exceptions for rape and incest were voted down. The bill was passed 97-33 in a special legislative session, designed for emergency legislation, but in this case, the Texas legislature blatantly took advantage of the fact that the voting threshold in the special session is lowered, and bills can pass more easily. The bill, after final approval in the House, has to be sent back to the Senate, which passed a bill without the 20 week ban. Once that happens, the bill will make it Governor Rick Perry’s desk, where he will sign it with the same zeal that he signs off on executions.
Let’s look at the two big sections of Texas’ sweeping anti-abortion restrictions separately. The first part, banning most abortions at 20 weeks, is in direct violation of Roe v. Wade, which established the federal standard that abortions may only be made illegal when the fetus is viable, which is true for about 90% of fetuses at 26 weeks. Texas has joined the chorus of Republican legislatures who want to move the standard to the subjective one of when the fetus can feel pain. This is obviously a subjective matter, and the studies that do exist cast doubt on the possibility that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, but this is clearly not about a scientific inquiry. This is about restricting abortion as much as possible.
This becomes even more clear when we look at the second part of the bill, which represents the other big push of the anti-abortion movement: closing clinics. This bill would require that abortions only take place in surgery clinics, and that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges at their local hospital. According to Planned Parenthood, this would reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas, a state with 26 million people, from 42 to 5.
What remains to be seen (after Democrats stage an unlikely battle to stall the bill to death) is whether some or all of it will be struck down by the courts. The 20 week ban is in violation of federal law, so that seems like a good bet. The clinic restrictions have also been struck down in other states, but Texas may be able to argue that clinics will still exist in Texas, and so it is still possible to receive an abortion in Texas.
That last sentence, however is becoming less and less true.