Abortion bill signing undaunted by ongoing protests

AUSTIN—After weeks of loud and sometimes disruptive protests and counter protests, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 2 into law on July 18, banning nearly all abortions after 20 weeks and requiring abortion providers upgrade their facilities and standards of practice.

In a ceremony that included pro-life legislators and advocates, Perry called the bill “appropriate” and said it set a “reasonable standard” of care for women while sparing the lives and suffering of unborn babies.

As the governor signed the bill, abortion-rights activists continued their month-long protests with demonstrations in the Capitol rotunda. Some chanted or held signs declaring “shame on you” while others lay on the marble floor dressed in black and feigning death. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of a former Texas governor, the late Ann Richards, said in a tweet, “We believe parts of this bill are unconstitutional & are working to stop it.”

Undaunted, pro-life legislators gathered around Perry as he signed HB 2 into law.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presided over the final Senate vote July 12, called it a victory for Texas women despite characterizations to the contrary by the bill’s opponents. Sen. Wendy Davis, D.-Fort Worth, who attempted to defeat similar legislation in the first special session with a filibuster, claimed the bill would severely limit Texas women’s access to medical care.

“By signing #HB2 today, @GovernorPerry proved he doesn’t care about Texas families. Let’s show him we do,” Davis tweeted. A link following the post took the reader to a campaign ad promoting Davis’ run for the Texas Senate.

“Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. We care about women’s health,” Dewhurst said.

Throughout the debate, pro-choice activists charged the legislation would force the closure of all but a handful of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Under HB 2, abortion facilities must meet the same standards as ambulatory clinics and abortion doctors must acquire admitting privileges to hospitals within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic. Dewhurst emphasized failure to meet those standards would not force the closure of health care centers, only abortion facilities. The clinics have until Sept. 1, 2014, to meet ambulatory standards. The rest of the legislation goes into effect 91 days after the close of the session, about mid-October.

The 20-week ban on abortions was championed in the regular session as the “Pre-born Pain Bill.” Noting that some research indicates a pre-born at five months might feel the pain of an abortion motivated the drafting of the legislation.

Perry, in his remarks July 18, said neonatal care saves the lives of babies born “not far past that point.”

“That should give pause to all of us as we argue the definition of ‘viability’ and consider the human impact on abortion,” he told the audience of pro-life leaders.

Authors of the omnibus bills in the House and Senate, Rep. Jodi Laubenberg, R.-Murphy, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R.-Katy, said they needed and appreciated the prayers and visible support of pro-life activists in the days leading up the bill’s passage. Laubenberg called them “the new blue” for the colored-coded delineation of the demonstrators—pro-life wore blue; pro-choice wore orange.

She thanked them for showing up to “counter the chaos that was going on,” referring to the well-organized and sustained demonstrations against the bill that started June 23 during the first special session. Activists managed to shout down passage of an identical bill in the closing minutes of that session, forcing Perry to call a second session.

“It really was the hand of God that held us up,” she said.

Hegar concurred.

“The power of prayer that day was immense,” he said.

The entire process weighed heavy on his heart, mind and soul. For several hours he stood on the Senate floor July 12 defending HB 2 against questions from Democrat lawmakers opposed to the measure. Hegar authored Senate Bill 1, the identical companion bill to HB 2. The bill passed the Senate on party lines, 19-11, with one pro-life Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voting for it.

“This has changed my life for the better,” Hegar said. “Texas is better after signing this legislation today.”

Perry called a second special legislative session to deal with the matter after opponents successfully stalled it as time expired in the first special session on June 25.

 

The legislation is a compilation of bills proposed in the regular session of the 83rd Legislature that ended in May. The 20-week ban is based on an approximate “post-fertilization” age.

HB 2 will also require abortion doctors to be present when any abortion-inducing drug, including RU-486, is administered.

Texas is the latest state to enact strict abortion regulations, despite efforts by abortion-rights activists to shut down or slow the legislative process. Their large and loud demonstrations at the State Capitol in recent weeks punctuated the debate but their efforts were countered by an influx of pro-life supporters days before the final vote.

“I am proud of our lawmakers and citizens who tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable,” Perry said following the Senate passage.

Pro-choice senators proposed 20 amendments without success and stated their strong disagreement with the bill in closing arguments. During debate, occasional outbursts from pro-choice activists in the Senate gallery could be heard.

As promised by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, the rules of decorum were strictly enforced and violators were quickly escorted from the chamber.

Lucio, a Roman Catholic and the lone Democrat senator to vote for HB 2, called the legislation a victory for the fight against “the war on children.” He admonished his peers on both sides of the aisle for not giving their support to legislation that champions life at all stages.

Both sides invoked God as a source for their guiding principles during debate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she was pro-life and supported Planned Parenthood for the health care services it provides. She said she supported the 20-week ban on abortion but not the other requirements. The other provisions, she and other Democrats argued, restrict access to health care for poor women.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, rebuked Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for implying that anyone opposed to HB 2 lacked faith in God. Whitmire noted the day in 1956 when he was baptized after proclaiming “Jesus as my Lord and savior” at a Baptist Church in Pasadena. He then went on to recount how he helped pay for a co-worker’s trip to New York for an abortion in 1972 when they were still illegal in Texas.

But Lucio called out his peers.

 “If you are a person of faith there is no way to justify abortion by pointing to God,” he said.

Other pro-life senators said science supports their arguments for the 20-week ban and their faith compelled them to treat all life with dignity.

Pro-life and conservative organizations, whose absence from the Capitol had grown increasingly conspicuous in contrast to the pro-choice demonstrations, rallied to the Capitol on July 8 in a show of support for the legislation. Many stayed through the final passage on July 12.

According to the bill, the ban will not apply to abortions deemed “necessary to avert the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman or abortions that are performed on unborn children with severe fetal abnormalities.”

—Additional reporting by TEXAN editor Jerry Pierce

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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