And there it is: Late last night, the Senate approved SB 5, a massive set of abortion restrictions that combine all the worst parts of most every anti-abortion bill filed in the regular session of the legislature. Well, all the worst parts, with one notable exception: The bill's author, Republican Senator Glenn Hegar of Katy, agreed to drop a proposed ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.
The measures that the Senate approved include a requirement that all abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, one that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility; and a requirement that doctors administering RU-486, the "abortion pill," force their patients to have a sonogram beforehand, take both pills in front of a doctor and see their physician for a follow-up within two weeks.
None of this stuff is recommended by the American Medical Association, or any other credible medical body. In one instance, as the Texas Tribune reported, Hegar rejected an amendment by Senator Leticia Van de Putte, a pharmacist in her day job, that would have removed a requirement that doctors follow the FDA guidelines in administering drug-induced abortions. Why would a pharmacist suggest such a thing? Because the FDA guidelines are outdated, and most doctors, backed by medical associations, now administer much lower levels of the drugs.
"Why would we endanger a women with three times the dose of that drug when that's not the way it's currently used?" Van de Putte asked Hegar, according to the Tribune. "It's more toxic. It's got more side effects, and if this is really about women's health, why would you do that?" (Later, Hegar accepted a more vague amendment by another Republican senator, Bob Deuell to allow the use of "evidence-based protocol" when administering the drugs.)
The short answer to Van de Putte's question, though, is that none of this is about women's health, no matter how strenuously Hegar and his cohorts have argued to the contrary. (As Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso argued, according to The Dallas Morning News: "The practical effect will be to shut down the clinics. So doesn't it have the practical effect of limiting access to care for women instead of improving it?") Nor is it about the health of children; as RH Reality Check's Andrea Grimes reported in her live-tweets from the hearing, Hegar & Co. rejected a number of proposed amendments that would have given more money to infant health and child development.
No, this is about outlawing abortion by inches, by hook, crook or bullshit technicality. And predictably badass Fort Worth Senator Wendy Davis, for her part, is pissed.
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Davis was one of the strongest critics of the bill throughout last night's debate, questioning, for example, why the new surgical standards wouldn't apply to any other medical procedure besides abortion (like, say, ectopic pregnancies, which are potentially fatal). In response, Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound told her, according to the Trib, "What makes this procedure special as opposed to a vasectomy or a plastic surgery is that we're ending a human life."
Davis wrote on her Facebook page this morning that Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst had supported the measures "due to the pursuit of a narrow, partisan political agenda." She added, "[T]he state of women's health in Texas took a giant step backward last night with the passage of Senate Bill 5. The passage of this bill greatly reduces women's access to critical health services and their ability to manage their own health care while further intruding in the relationship between a woman and her doctor. In the end, Senate majority leaders chose to push through their red meat, partisan political agendas, sacrificing women's options and endangering their health in the process."
Meanwhile, Dewhurst, who'd pushed hard for the new abortion regulations to be part of the special session, was, again according to the Tribune, absent for most of the debate. For much of that time, he was apparently at a restaurant with a "consultant." Meanwhile, fellow abortion foe Attorney General Greg Abbott merrily tweeted about basketball.
The bill, which passed 20-10, continues now to the House, where Hegar has said he hopes the 20-week abortion cutoff will be reinstated. There's a better than excellent chance that the whole bundle of horrible regulations will make it to Perry's desk intact.