Texas GOP Continues ‘Born-Alive’ Bill Push Amid Democratic Walkout

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Texas House Democrats did everything they could to slow down their Republican colleagues' "born-alive" bill Monday morning. But the legislation, like so many anti-abortion bills in the Texas Legislature over the last decade, chugged along as expected and looks set for a big debate on the House floor later this session.

When Plano Republican Jeff Leach tried to call the House Judiciary Committee he chairs to order on Monday, he couldn't. The four Democrats on the committee — representatives Jessica Farrar, Yvonne Davis, Julie Johnson and Victoria Neave — took advantage of Park Cities Republican Rep. Morgan Meyer running late to get back to Austin from North Texas and didn't show up, leaving Leach without a quorum.

Without a quorum, Leach couldn't begin the committee rollout of his "born-alive" bill, which would impose a $100,000 civil penalty on any abortion provider in Texas who fails to care for an infant that survives an abortion in the same way that he or she would an infant born at a similar stage of development.

The bill mimics a 2002 federal law signed by President George W. Bush, which grants the same rights to an infant born alive during an abortion procedure as those that would be given to any other person. Proponents of the Texas bill say it will give the federal law teeth. Many of those against the bill say it is, at best, redundant and misleading and, at worst, fear-mongering that will create fear for women seeking abortions and doctors seeking to provide abortion care.

"While some members of the Texas Legislature insist on attacking as well as offending women directly and indirectly, we will not join this charade by participating in this political grandstanding on issues which are already codified in Texas and federal law," Farrar, Davis, Johnson and Neave said in a joint statement Monday. "We refuse to offend our fellow Texas women, their families and licensed physicians by wasting time on unnecessary legislation designed to intimidate and restrict women's access to healthcare."

While the four Democratic women never showed back up, Leach was able to get the hearing on the bill rolling in the afternoon when Meyer was finally able to make it back to the committee room, creating a five-member quorum.

Claire Culwell, a woman born after her mother aborted her twin sister, was among the first witnesses to testify in support of the bill.

"They do not want to see our face [because they do not want to see that abortion survivors exist]," Culwell said of the Democrats sitting the hearing out. "This shouldn't be something that we are debating about or not showing up to vote about."

Leach's bill would likely have no effect on a situation like the one that led up to Culwell's birth.

Based on the American Medical Association's code of ethics, the Neonatal Resuscitation Program recommends that resuscitation should be withheld from any infant born after a gestation of less than 23 weeks. Texas law already bans abortions occurring more than 20 weeks after conception, except in the case of a severe fetal abnormality or a life-threatening medical condition for the mother. In 2015, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, only 95 of 55,287 abortions performed in the state occurred more than 20 weeks after gestation — less than 1/5 of 1 percent.

"Since 2013, there have been no cases of individuals born after abortion [in Texas]," Drucilla Tigner, a political strategist for the ACLU of Texas told the committee, citing stats from Texas' Health and Human Services Commission. "Homicide laws already cover infants no matter the circumstances of their birth. ... The actual impact of HB 16 is to distort the public perception of abortion care."

The ACLU also worries about the tip line Leach's bill would create to allow callers or emailers to report doctors who violate the law to the Texas Attorney General's Office, Tigner said. 

The House Judiciary Committee left Leach's bill pending Monday. A committee vote on the bill should come in a couple of weeks.

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