AUSTIN—Pro-life advocates are pressing urgently this week in a Texas Senate committee for an omnibus bill that could revive pro-life legislation not voted on during the just concluded 83rd Legislature.
If Senate Bill 5 makes it out of the Health and Human Service Committee, it would merge the provisions of four bills that died in committee during the regular session. Supporters say time is short and they must seize the moment or see their efforts die until the next legislative session in two years.
Kyleen Wright called the opportunity to present the bill “a God thing.” Too many factors came into play for the Texans for Life president to believe otherwise. She said there are few bills under consideration this session; the lead attorney for a Texas pro-choice group stepped down; and summer schedules could slow the opposition’s efforts to assemble their advocates to stop the bill. Taking advantage of the opportunity, on Monday a coalition of pro-life organizations met in Austin to assure Gov. Rick Perry they would unite their efforts to pass the omnibus bill if he would add it to the special session calendar.
“They wanted to get everyone together to make sure everyone is working toward the same goal,” said Lucy Nashed, spokesman for Perry.
The governor called the special session to address redistricting, a holdover from the regular session. But Tuesday afternoon Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst each announced two additional items would be considered: The omnibus bill and a bill relating to the sentencing of 17-year-olds convicted of a capital offense.
Shortly after Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, introduced the omnibus legislation in the Senate on Tuesday, pro-life organizations sent email blasts to their members urging them to pray and contact their senators and representatives to support SB 5 “relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers, and facilities; providing penalties.”
“Governor Perry has done a bold thing, a brave thing,” said Ann Hettinger, state director of Concerned Women for America of Texas.
Public comment was scheduled for Thursday and Friday in the Senate. The House is not expected to convene on Monday. Wright said the coalition and legislators worked to create a bill that would pass muster before the session ends June 21. If the measure makes it to the House floor for a debate the vote could come down to the wire late on Friday.
“It has to move so fast we don’t have time for error. We’re trying to make it perfect,” Wright said this week.
During the regular session legislators introduced bills that would effectively limit abortions by demanding higher standards of abortionists and their clinics. Additionally, Senate Bill 25, the Preborn Pain Bill, would have put the greatest restrictions on abortions by prohibiting the procedure after the 20th week of pregnancy. The Senate omnibus bill combines from the regular session SB 25; SB 537 requiring abortion clinics operate under the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics; SB 1198 requiring abortion physicians maintain admitting privileges at hospitals within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic; and SB 97 requiring stricter monitoring of the administration of RU 486, an abortion-inducing drug used instead of the surgical procedure.
House Bill 60, authored by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, is identical to SB 5.
Perry publicly supported SB 25 during the regular session. Nashed said the omnibus bill has his backing despite the failure of each bill in the regular session.
Wright blamed the bills’ demise on political maneuvering by Republicans and Democrats who did not want to address the abortion issue and by an intimidating intensity from the abortion lobby this session. She accused pro-abortion advocates of threatening to pull funding from pro-life Democrats in the Legislature.
Almost a dozen states have passed “fetal pain” laws like SB 25 but some have come under court scrutiny. That was enough to make potential supporters of SB 25 balk.
Wright speculated that conservative legislators did not feel as “obligated” to pass pro-life bills this session because of last session’s legislation requiring women to have an ultrasound 24 hours prior to an abortion.
But that kind of thinking could be costly, she said. Soon they will be running for re-election with no pro-life legislation to tout.
“If Republicans can’t do something to address this, they are useless to us,” Wright said.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s public support gives force to the bill, increasing its chance of passage in the Senate, said Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and president of Texas Values. But House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has yet to tip his hand concerning the bill. Without the political weight of the speaker behind a bill, passage could be a challenge.
“When Gov. Perry puts something on the (calender), that means a lot of people are invested in seeing this pass. The question is, ‘Is anyone willing to get in the way?’” Saenz said.
Nashed said it was too soon to speculate if Perry would call a second special session if the omnibus bill isn’t voted on before June 21.