On Wednesday afternoon, the state Senate signed off on the bill that one of the region's biggest anti-abortion organizations, Texas Right to Life, has identified as a key building block to ending legal abortion Texas. Senate Bill 415, which passed its initial Senate test with a 22-8 vote, would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, the most common method of second trimester abortion.
The bill's advocates call dilation and evacuation procedures "dismemberment abortions." Opponents of the ban identify it as a challenge to legal abortion in the state that has nothing to do with women's health.
That second point became clear during Wednesday's debate. During a rancorous debate, Democratic senators repeatedly challenged Charles Perry, the bill's author about the medical basis of the bill. El Paso's Jose Rodriguez told his colleagues that dilation and evacuation is, according to abortion providers, often the safest way to perform a second trimester abortion. Making the procedure illegal would punish doctors who might be saving a woman's life, he said.
Sylvia Garcia asked Perry whether he'd consulted any obstetrics and gynecology groups while drafting his bill. Perry admitted that he hadn't. Austin's Kirk Watson offered an amendment that would've allowed dilation and extraction if a woman's doctor said it was the safest option available to her. That amendment was voted down.
Rather than being written with the help of medical professionals, Perry's bill was written with the help of Texas Alliance for Life's legislative director, John Seago. When he talked with the Observer last summer, just after the United States Supreme Court overturned Texas' last major abortion effort, he identified banning dilation and extraction as his group's next priority as it looks to build case law that will eventually allow Roe v. Wade to be reversed. Texas has already banned abortion after 20 weeks. Banning dilation and evacuation procedures would create a de facto 12-week ban.
In February, Seago told a state senate committee that he believed SB 415 could pass constitutional muster because, in a previous Texas abortion case, Gonzalez v. Carhart, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy struck down an abortion procedure — so-called "partial-birth abortion" — because he felt it was too grizzly.
“Senate Bill 415 is the next step in educating the public about the violent nature of abortion and it will stop elective abortions,” Seago said.
Perry echoed Seago on the senate floor Tuesday, saying that his bill will ensure that doctors "can't dismember the baby and have that be the cause of death."
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After the vote, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby emphasized the harm SB 415 could cause for Texas women.
"Every woman's pregnancy experience is different, and doctors need all options available to treat their individual patients. Politicians should leave the practice of medicine to physicians," Busby said in a statement.
SB 415 will move on to the Republican-dominated Texas House of Representatives next week. Even if the bill passes and is signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as expected, however, the bill could face a stiff challenge in the courts. Texas Alliance for Life, the state's other big anti-abortion lobbying group, isn't supporting the bill because it doesn't believe it will hold up in court.
“With due respect for the author [of SB 415], we just don’t think the bill will survive a federal court challenge,” Joe Pojman, the executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life said during committee debate over the bill. “We cannot recommend it to you. We’d love to believe that [Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy would support this. We told you he would support [the Texas anti-abortion law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016]. We were wrong.”