Republicans, Democrats renew battle over abortion
Posted on March 6, 2013 at 6:27 PM
Updated Wednesday, Mar 6 at 6:41 PM
AUSTIN -- It's an issue with deep divides.
Those calling for more restrictions on abortions and those calling for fewer are passionate about their position. Inside the halls of the Texas Capitol, lawmakers are divided as well.
"I think it's just ridiculous that we do things to women to manipulate their minds instead of trusting that they already have made a very difficult decision," state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) told media gathered Wednesday morning just outside the House Chamber.
Farrar aims to repeal a 2011 law requiring women wait 24 hours between a mandatory consultation and ultrasound and the abortion procedure, citing a study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project that indicated the law placed unnecessary burdens on women seeking an abortion while doing nothing to change their minds.
"Most women reported that that waiting period was not helpful, and that they also reported negative effects of that waiting period," said Dr. Daniel Grossman, Vice President for Research at Ibis Reproductive Health.
"Most women thought that the waiting period could be useful for some women, but they thought that it shouldn't be required and that it should be optional," explained Grossman. "Other women talked about feeling like they weren't trusted, as if they weren't capable of making this decision and that made them angry. Other women reported that that waiting period just sort of increased their anxiety."
The keystone abortion legislation for Republicans of the 83rd Texas Legislature is the "Preborn Pain Bill." Filed this week by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), HB 2364 and companion bill SB 25 filed by state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law is based on the controversial theory that a 20-week old fetus can feel pain. Current law bans most abortions once gestation has reached the third trimester, after around 27 weeks.
"There's indisputable neurological structures in place that do in fact subject the child to pain," Elizabeth Graham with Texas Right to Life, one of the bill's early proponents.
Graham explains the bill is aimed, "To draw attention to the humanity of the unborn child, and that late abortions subject the unborn child to torturous, excruciating dismemberment and Texas has a state interest in protecting the lives of preborn children who can feel pain."
The debate over "fetal pain" legislation revolves around defining what it means for a fetus to "feel," and a distinction between reflexive reaction to stimulus and the development of the neural mechanism necessary to experience pain as a feeling.
The data used by either side is often based on the same small set of studies on the subject (see links).
"Over the last decade you've seen pro-life legislation passed not because the people aren't for it, they've done it because the people are for it," Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) told anti-abortion activists while on a December visit to Houston where he announced his support for fetal pain legislation.
"The state has a responsibility to prevent the needless suffering of our most vulnerable citizens, and these bills introduced by Sen. Hegar and Rep. Laubenberg are a vital step toward meeting that obligation," Perry stated in a press release issued Wednesday. "Texas has done a great deal of work over the last several years to nurture our culture of life, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect the lives of the unborn, until abortion is finally a thing of the past."
A poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune suggests 57 percent of Texans support fetal pain legislation, while 26 percent oppose it. The same poll suggests a majority of Texans support abortion rights. Nonetheless, lawmakers aiming to reverse anti-abortion legislation aren't optimistic.
"I'm going to be very frank, I'm not expecting anything, a miracle to happen," Farrar told media. "But what I'm hoping to do is lift the level of discussion."
It's a bitter battle that's once again heating up.