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Abortion regulation bill passes hurdle

By J. Lyn Carl

Austin, TX – With rumors flying that there could be as many as 75 amendments offered by Democratic senators, the every-session abortion debate began in the Senate Tuesday when Sen. Tommy Williams brought HB 15, relating to regulation of abortion, to the Senate floor.

There were only two amendments offered, with one withdrawn.

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) led the early charge, questioning Williams on what the "bottom line" of the legislation's goal is. Williams responded the goal is to ensure women considering the procedure receive "all the pertinent information" regarding the consequences of the procedure as well as consequences regarding not having the procedure.

Barrientos raised the age-old question asked when the issue gets political - is this not a decision a woman should make based on her own conscience and religious convictions rather than having the legislature decide it for her?

Williams said he had a number of women come to him and say they would not have had an abortion had they known some of the complications and dangers associated with the procedure.

The legislation, among other things, provides that an abortion on a fetus age 16 weeks or more may only be performed at an ambulatory surgical center or hospital licensed to perform the abortion. It also provides a myriad of information be provided to the abortion-seeker, from information on the risk involved to medical assistance benefits available for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care, to information regarding child support from the father. It also provides that an abortion cannot be performed until at least 24 hours after that information is provided.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) questioned the language stating "geographically indexed" material in the bill and photographs in the presentation of 20 color photos showing gestation in two-week increments. Williams responded it is the same information that can be found in high school biology textbooks.

Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), a medical doctor, said one thing you hear from people who are pro-choice is that they want abortions to be safe. He said this legislation does that and is something both sides should embrace. "In my own practice, I've had patients come to me with an unwanted pregnancy. They know I am pro-life but they know I respect their decision." Deuell said this is a "good bill to consider." He said he also had patients who had abortions who felt they did not have informed consent?that they had not been given enough information regarding dangers, risks, etc. "I have concerns that people do not get that informed consent about what the actual surgical procedure is," he said.

Abortion clinics seem to be unwilling to give information regarding the number of abortions they perform, the gestation age, and information regarding complications, said Deuell. "This bill will serve as a means to prevent some complications," he said, "and make abortions safer to the people who choose to get them" and also may influence people who might not have had an abortion if they had better information in advance.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) questioned if some of the information being provided is incorrect and addressed that with an amendment. She said telling a woman having an abortion might increase her chance of breast cancer is information that has not been scientifically proven. Dueull said there are individuals on both sides of the issue who say it does and others who say it doesn't. Williams said he would rather women have that information rather than no information at all. Van de Putte withdrew her amendment.

Barrientos offered an amendment adding that there would be exceptions in the legislation for instances of rape, incest, or cases of irreversible abnormalities of the fetus or those instances when abortion is deemed medically necessary.

"Who am I, or who are you, or who is the Texas government to go and tell my daughter, or Sen. Lindsays' daughter after they have been raped or severely beaten, that they cannot have an abortion? Who are we? That's their business, not government's," said Barrientos.

Deuell countered that many women in such positions have carried those babies to full term and "were glad they did."

"What about those that do not want to keep the memories?" Barrientos said of women who suffer rape or incest or physical harm.

"Twenty-four hours is not going to change any of that," said Deuell.

"Do the rapists have more rights than these women?" asked Barrientos. "Do we have a right as government to be involved in this?" He said women "have the intelligence and free will to make their own decision."

They are not "too ignorant, too helpless" to make this decision, said the Austin Democrat.

Barrientos' amendment failed.

The legislation passed on second reading but was held on third.