After lengthy delay, battle over abortion begins in Texas Senate
Posted on June 18, 2013 at 5:14 PM
Updated Tuesday, Jun 18 at 5:21 PM
AUSTIN -- Demonstrators and activists waited patiently Tuesday for the Texas Senate to take up controversial abortion bills, only for the issue to be put on hold for most of the day.
After a late start, the morning's debate focused around transportation funding vehicle SJR 2, which senators tentatively approved Tuesday afternoon before being granted a lengthy recess by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas).
With the abortion legislation scheduled for a floor vote Tuesday, a handful of Senate Democrats vowed to push back against the bills, despite special session rules allowing them to pass on a simple majority.
"It is not a foregone conclusion," state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said of the bills' likely passage. "We'll be doing all that we can do on the Senate floor to make sure that these bills do not come up, and if they do come up, they don't pass."
The legislation includes restrictions on abortions performed after 20 weeks, the point at which supporters of "fetal pain" legislation believe a fetus can feel pain. Legislation also under consideration would require abortion clinics to meet the same facilities guidelines as ambulatory surgical clinics.
Much of the testimony during the special session has focused on legislation that would require that abortion pill regimen RU-486 be prescribed by a physician according to original U.S. Food and Drug Administration dosage guidelines which most physicians say are excessive and outdated.
"Going back to those dosing requirements not only takes a step back in medical science, but also doubles the amount of RU-486 that a patient is required to take and that in effect significantly increases the cost of a termination," said Dr. Christine Sebestyen, a licensed OB/GYN practicing in North Austin and Planned Parenthood board member.
"I fight for women's health and women's safety, but these bills are going to do the opposite," said Sebestyen, who warns the combined laws would shut down all but five abortion clinics across the state. "They are really going to impair women's health and women's safety by reducing their access to terminations and causing them to seek more desperate measures."
"We don't know that it will be fewer clinics, but if it is fewer clinics, they still have a choice," said Texans for Life Coalition president Kyleen Wright. "They may have to drive 15 minutes further."
Arguing that abortion clinics across the state offer substandard care, Wright disputes the notion that women will be forced to seek abortions through underground clinics or across the border.
"If women will go to Mexico, they will go to the next city over where the clinic is safe and clean, and the tools have been sterilized properly, and there is a real doctor on staff and maybe even a real R.N."
When abortion was added to the special session call by Gov. Rick Perry a week ago, Republicans voiced optimism the bills which were unsuccessful during the regular session would soon be passed.
"I would hope that even those who are pro choice would think that abortion doctors and clinics should follow the law, follow the FDA guidelines," state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) told KVUE in an interview last week.
Now both sides appear to be digging in for the showdown to come.