Final outburst accompanies controversial abortion bill's sendoff to Senate
Posted on July 10, 2013 at 5:17 PM
Updated Wednesday, Jul 10 at 5:20 PM
AUSTIN -- Demonstrators rose to their feet as weeks of drama in the Texas House came to a conclusion Wednesday afternoon.
A handful of abortion rights supporters shouted down lawmakers, but were quickly dragged out by troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Republicans applauded after members voted along party lines to send controversial anti-abortion omnibus House Bill 2 to the state Senate.
One of the most worrisome features of the legislation for opponents is a part of the bill that would require abortion clinics to meet the same facilities guidelines as ambulatory surgical centers, which supporters say would lead to fewer, safer abortions.
"In the ambulatory surgery center restrictions, there are very specific building code requirements that are very expensive to implement," said Dr. Christina Sebestyen, an OB/GYN practicing in North Austin. The requirements include wider halls and doorways, larger operating rooms and more stringent environmental controls.
"Ultimately, there's no safety benefit for doing an abortion in a larger room versus a smaller room, and in fact this procedure, a suction dilation and curettage, is something that we do in our offices all the time for non-viable fetuses," Dr. Sebestyen said.
While the new law would require abortions performed on a viable fetus to be carried out in an ambulatory surgical center, Sebestyen notes it would allow the same procedure to be performed on non-viable fetuses in a small examination room.
Opponents of the legislation warn 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas would have to be upgraded or close, leaving just five statewide. Two would be located in the Houston area, and one in each of the major urban centers of Austin, Dallas and San Antonio.
"They have a year to comply. If you want to put somebody out of business, you say 'tomorrow,'" said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), the bill's author. Laubenberg argues abortion clinics are profitable enough to be able to afford the upgrades in compliance with the new law.
"The average cost for an abortion, the number of abortions in this state, you do the math," said Laubenberg. "There is money there to improve your facility, and I think they would want to."
"I don't know where they get that information. They never share that with us," said state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin). Howard says many have testified the facilities' upgrades would cost between $500,000 and several million dollars, plus increased monthly operating costs.
"The ambulatory surgical center costs approximately $40,000 more per month to run, plus the cost that is passed onto the patient," said Howard. "It's about $400 for a procedure in the abortion clinic, whereas as it's $1,200 something in the ASC."
The bill now heads to the state Senate, which is expected to move swiftly in order to avoid another filibuster.