Back in December, Governor Rick Perry announced with much pomp and circumstance that he would support the passage of a "fetal pain" bill this session in the Legislature. "Fetal pain" is one of the pet legislative projects of pro-life group Texas Right to Life this year; it's a total ban on abortions after 20 weeks, using the argument, as TRL director Elizabeth Graham puts it, that fetuses are capable of feeling "torturous pain at 20 weeks post-fertilization."
In fact, the best science indicates that fetuses don't feel pain before the third trimester at the earliest, according to a 2005 review of the evidence in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Not ones to let piddling things like science get in the way of their politico-religious agenda, the TRL has finally found a legislator to sponsor the bill. This morning, state Representative Jodie Laubenberg of Murphy filed what she's titled the "Preborn Pain Act."
Laubenberg's bill states that "substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization." Furthermore, it adds, "the state has a compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that these children are capable of feeling pain."
There also appears to be language in her bill that could pave the way for a total abortion ban. The fetal pain provision, the bill states, "is intended to be separate from and independent of the compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage of viability, and neither state interest is intended to replace the other."
What's more, the bill doesn't require that a woman definitely be 20 weeks pregnant. The procedure could be banned even if "the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child has not been determined but could reasonably be 20 or more weeks," the bill states. (The full text is available here. )
The bill very magnanimously adds that a woman who had a now-banned later term abortion wouldn't be prosecuted. It also states that in any potential court cases arising from an illegal procedure, the identity of the woman who's had the abortion "would not be subject to public disclosure." Unless, of course, a court finds that revealing her identity "is essential to the administration of justice and there is no reasonable alternative to disclosure."
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There's plenty of tricky language in here, designed to get some parts of the bill passed, even if others are declared unconstitutional or unenforceable in court. The last section of the bill reads, in part:
[I]f any provision, section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or word of this Act or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is found to be unconstitutional, the provision, section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or word is hereby declared to be severable and the balance of this Act remains effective notwithstanding such unconstitutionality.
It's worth noting that, according to the Guttmacher Insitute, around 88 percent of abortions in the United States happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Fifty-eight percent of women who have abortions say they'd like to have had them earlier, and 60 percent say the delay was caused by the time it takes to raise money and or make the arrangements necessary to get the procedure done. Other times, women have later-term abortions after they discover that their fetus has a devastating illness or abnormality. (The Texas Observer ran a heartbreaking piece by Carolyn Jones last year on her own late-term abortion, after she and her husband learned that their baby's brain, spine and legs would never develop normally.)
In other words, as ever, the "Preborn Pain Act" targets poor and rural women, as well as those who discover, too late, that their pregnancies aren't viable, or will lead to a lifetime of suffering for their baby. This is the face of "compassionate" women's healthcare in Texas.