On Friday, July 12, after more than nine hours of discussion on the Texas Senate floor, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2, an omnibus abortion bill by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Murphy) that criminalizes abortions that occur more than 20 weeks post-fertilization (unless the fetus suffers a “severe fetal abnormality” or the pregnancy poses a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” to the mother) and requires abortion facilities to meet the standards required of ambulatory surgical centers. The bill also mandates that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the clinic where the abortion is performed.
Planned Parenthood has predicted that the financial burden of meeting these regulations could potentially force all but five abortion clinics in the state to close, severly restricting the ability of Texas women to receive safe and legal abortions.
The idea that women might seek out abortions, whether or not legal and safe options are available, seemed largely lost on Texas legislators, who, in their unwillingness to accept a single one of the 47 amendments offered in the Senate and the House, seemed willfully ignorant of this possibility.
We understand the Texas Senate’s desire to challenge Roe v. Wade by passing a law that restricts abortions past 20 weeks. We recognize the compellingness of the argument made by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) for protecting a five-month-old fetus, which she made during the debate when she held up a picture of a fetus that far along. (Zaffirini, though pro-life, voted against the bill on the basis that it would restrict access to women’s healthcare.)
But if Texas legislators are going to be moved by arguments as simple and beautiful as the image of a fetus at five months, they should also recognize the simple truth that people will have unprotected sex, and therefore unintended pregnancies and the desire for an abortion, whether the state restricts access to the procedure or not, and whether or not that sex offends their own sensibilites.
Given these realities, why were amendments that bolstered evidenced-based sex education and funding for family planning cast aside in party-line votes?
If we had to point to one moment in Friday night’s debate, which, for the most part, saw respectful and well-argued perspectives from both sides of the aisle, that sent our stomachs churning (excepting, of course, the descriptions of child rape, incest and pregnancies endangering the life of the mother shared by Democratic senators attempting to convince their colleagues to amend, or at least think twice before voting in favor of, the legislation) we would certainly point our fingers straight at Sen. Dan Patrick’s (R-Houston) closing comments.
Patrick’s speech may have confused many viewers of the Senate live-stream into thinking they had accidentally switched from viewing the proceedings of the Texas Legislature to viewing the proceedings of a “Dan Patrick for Lieutenant Governor” campaign rally. (Patrick announced he would challenge Dewhurst for that position on June 27, just before the start of the second special session.)
Other members of the Republican caucus, such as Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flowermound), gave closing arguments in support of HB 2 that hinged on deeply personal stories and conceded the difficulty of the issue at hand.
Both Nelson and Schwertner acknowledged the connection between unwanted pregnancies and abortions and called for both increased funding for women’s health care and evidence-based sex education.
In his comments, Schwertner even saw fit to address why he had voted “no” on the many amendments offered that night.
“You have noticed I didn’t vote for any amendments this evening,” Schwertner said. “I think it’s too important to get this bill passed and get it to the governor’s office…however, I can say I’ve heard the proposals this evening from my Democratic colleagues, which I believe merit further consideration.”
Schwertner’s words are not as reassuring as even a single “yes” vote on one of the many amendments offered would have been. And they hint at the disturbing inability of the Republicans in power to accept even a rape and incest exception to the 20-week ban. But they are still valuable words, and next to Patrick’s statements, Schwertner’s comments look downright courageous.
Patrick’s speech could also, like Schwertner’s and Nelson’s, be characterized as “deeply personal”— in that he managed to spend his time at the microphone throwing out deeply insulting, personal insults at both women who have chosen to have abortions and at the many citizens of Texas whose religious beliefs do not match his own.
In his speech, Patrick implied that women who chose abortions do so flippantly, because having a child wouldn’t be “convenient” for them. Tired of merely implying that people with different opinions were somehow lesser than him, he went on to explicitly say that supporters of HB 2 were “listening a little more closely” to God than the bill’s opponents, just before he referred to God as a “he” and asked “how God would vote.”
Patrick’s comments on this divise and difficult issue rang of political opportunism at its worst and reminded us why Americans outside the state of Texas so often dismiss this wonderful place as prejudiced and backwards.
There are universally compelling arguments for banning abortion after 20 weeks. There are also universally compelling arguments for having sex, arguments that the state will have little luck in challenging.
Legislators have passed HB 2. Now, they need to confront the issues of family planning, sex education and sexual violence against women, all causes which can lead to abortion.