Thousands flooded the Capitol Monday as the State Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony from opponents and supporters of Senate Bill 1, regulating abortions in Texas. Senator Jane Nelson (R) chairs the committee. The marathon hearing lasted nearly 14 hours, ending in the early morning hours of Tuesday. The committee adjourned without voting on sending the bill to the full senate.
The house is expected to vote on its version of the bill on Tuesday.
Less than a week ago, the House State Affairs Committee heard more that eight hours of testimony on its version of the bill, HB2. During that eight hours the committee heard fewer than one hundred of the more than 2,000 people who signed up to testify.
The number of people who sign up to testify today could be as large.
This is the second go ’round with this legislation. It died in the Senate during the first Special Session, largely because of an 11 hour filibuster by Democratic Senator Wendy Davis.
So what is actually in this legislation that’s drawing thousands from around the state to speak for or against it? What’s in SB1 that’s got America watching?
Ambulatory Surgical Centers
Critics claim — and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has tweeted — passage of this legislation would winnow the number of abortion clinics in the sprawling state of Texas down to five. This is because it requires all abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, rather than state regulated clinics.
Opponents of SB1 say without safe, legal abortion clinics open and accessible across Texas, illegal abortionists will move in to fill the void. They say that will put the lives of women and girls in danger, particularly poor women and girls who live in the vast rural regions of Texas.
Supporters say requiring all abortions be performed at outpatient surgery centers will protect women’s health by providing higher quality care.
Opponents say abortion isn’t surgery, and need not be performed at a surgical center.
Supporters say surgical centers are safer places to be should something go wrong during or after the procedure.
SB1 would require that abortions be performed by a doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital up to 30 miles away. After last week’s House State Affairs Committee hearing, Houston Representative Sylvester Turner (D) said that will essentially ban abortions, because — whether for religious or political reasons — few hospitals will grant privileges to doctors who perform elective abortions. The general counsel of the Texas Hospital Association told the House State Affairs Committee it will be difficult for doctors who perform elective abortions to get admitting privileges at most Texas hospitals.
Spring Representative Patricia Harless (R) serves with Rep. Turner on the State Affairs Committee. After the hearing she said she believes doctors who perform abortions will be able to get admitting privileges.
20 Week Ban
SB1 bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation. The primary reasoning behind this is written in the legislation as follows:
(1) substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization;
Opponents says that is false. They say the preponderance of medical evidence finds a fetus doesn’t have the capacity to feel pain until 24 weeks gestation, at the earliest. Those in favor of SB1 cite their own research supporting the claim that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks.
There is an exception to the 20 week ban for women for whom a continued pregnancy might kill them or cause them “irreparable harm.” It also allows a women whose fetus is suffering from severe abnormalities to end her pregnancy. Critics say, however, this exception offers little protection. They say few doctors will be willing to perform late-term abortions in a state where the exception is subjective, and criminal prosecution is possible.
Mifepristone (Mifeprex) is a medication often given to a woman who is fewer than eight weeks pregnant to induce abortion. It is also used to induce a miscarriage in a woman whose embryo has stopped developing, but whose miscarriage hasn’t started naturally. Women generally take it at home, or at their doctors office. The proposed legislation would now require the medication to be given by a doctor, at an ambulatory surgical center, after a medical examination. The doctor would be required to pinpoint the gestational age of the embryo, and its location in the uterus. In early pregnancy, this requires a transvaginal ultrasound. During this type of ultrasound, a doctor inserts a probe into a woman’s vagina in order the assess the contents of her uterus.
The bill also would require a doctor to give their patient a 24-hour phone number at which she could reach the doctor or their staff, and would require the doctor to see the woman again within two weeks.
Supporters say this portion of SB1 assures a woman will take the medication in keeping with FDA guidelines, and protects a woman in the rare case that excessive bleeding occurs.
Critics say it’s an unnecessary impediment to a safer alternative to an invasive procedure during the early, embryonic period of pregnancy.