For forcing a Special Session and protecting Women's Rights, State Senator Wendy Davis is now a bonafide Texas hero. But as the bright spotlight has focused most of the attention on her, another huge part of the story has been overshadowed. As we head into a second Special Session, it's critical to get this part of the story out to the world. And for this, you have to go over to the Texas House of Representatives, and their proceedings leading up to the bill's arrival in the Senate. This is truly where the most important part of the fight happened, and it's where to watch as the next round begins.
A big portion of these issues that's getting muddled up in the national media coverage? These bills are not about a 20-week abortion ban. They are about closing health facilities. That's why they set impossible goals for the facilities and doctors to meet. A Doctor's office is not a hospital. If you have a cold or the flu (assuming you have health insurance), the first place that you go to is NOT going to be the ER. We have these places as separate facilities for a reason. But under the guise of HB60 and other TRAP laws, all facilities where a Doctor would give basic women's health care have to be upgraded to "ER" status, Ambulatory Surgical Centers. This leaves Doctors with a nearly impossible choice... either spend Hundreds of Thousands of dollars to turn their small clinic into a full-fledged, fully staffed hospital, or close up shop.
Here's an excerpt from an ABC News article, written by Emily DeRuy...
Republican Gov. Rick Perry says he's fighting to protect the lives of unborn children, but he stands to hurt living, breathing Texans in the process.
Both men and women, particularly low-income minorities who are more likely to lack health insurance and medical-care options, rely on the "abortion clinics" for services like contraception, STD testing and even cancer screenings. One in four women in the state are uninsured.
"That is part of the concern that's getting drowned out in the abortions versus pro-life soundbite," Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D) said during a Monday phone interview.
Right now, Texas has more than 40 clinics that not only perform abortions but also offer birth control and condoms. All but a handful will be prohibited from operating under the proposed bill. Those that could remain open are in a few urban areas, which would leave rural women with few options.
The restrictions "would represent a significant step backward for the health status of Texas women," Dr. Lisa Hollier, chairwoman of the Texas District American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, wrote in testimony before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Lawmakers in the Lone Star state barred Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program several years ago because the organization funds abortion clinics. The organization estimates that 130,000 women in Texas now go without preventive health care due to the state's 2011 cuts to women's health care funding.
Abortions make up just three percent of Planned Parenthood services in Texas, according to a spokeswoman for the organization. Thousands of women visit the organization's clinics all over the state to receive STD treatments and other services. The organization also runs education programs to teach men and women how to avoid HIV and unwanted pregnancies.
Clinics not affiliated with Planned Parenthood provide similar services. The proposed law could force them to shutter their doors: In addition to banning abortions later than 20 weeks into a pregnancy, the bill requires abortion clinics to meet unusually high surgical standards and mandates that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.
Many of the clinics don't currently meet such standards and would have to either remodel, relocate, or shut down if they perform more than several dozen abortions in a year. This is despite the fact that few people suffer complications from abortions in current clinics.
So even after being opposed by Texas ACOG, Republicans have continued to push the omnibus bill. Thankfully, House Democrats had plan to at least expose the lie that the bill has anything to do with women's health or safety. The Democratic caucus submitted a slew of amendments to weaken the bill. But in the process, they forced the House to vote on each issue, instead of just rushing the whole thing through. Take a look at some of the amendments...
Rep Naomi Gonzalez offered this amendment to strike "medical evidence" and substitute "evidence,
defined as the great preponderance of published peer-reviewed and scientifically
based medical literature, knowing that the science surrounding fetal pain in support of the bill is inaccurate.
This amendment caused bill Sponsor Jodie Laubenberg to openly question studies from both the American Medical Association and Harvard Law Review regarding fetal development. The one study she produced to counter the claim had already been debunked. Voted DOWN by the GOP
Rep Senfronia Thompson submitted an amendment to create an exemption to the 20-week ban for victims of rape and incest. Given how emotionally traumatic the situation, a woman may need more time to make a very difficult choice. Voted DOWN by the GOP
Rep Mary Gonzalez offered an amendment to exempt abortion facilities that are located more than 50 miles away from the next nearest provider. Given how large of a state Texas is, and how few options currently exist for comprehensive care, this helps to protect the rights of women in rural Texas, and actually anyone living West of San Antonio. If a woman is going to seek an abortion, surely the GOP legislators would want her to have at least one safe option near her, correct? Why discriminate against women and make them travel up to 500 miles just because you don't agree with their decision? Yep, you guessed it... Voted DOWN by the GOP
Rep Donna Howard offered several amendments to change the strict codes regarding upgrades to an Ambulatory Surgical Center, citing that state law already requires any abortion performed after 16 weeks to be done in an ASC. She asked to create exemptions to the space and height requirements, and exorbitant construction costs. Voted DOWN by the GOP
Rep Eddie Rodriguez offered several amendments to give clinics, at the very least, six more months to adjust to a slew of expensive new regulations. The bill, if signed by Governor Perry, would be effective immediately. That means any clinic not already in compliance has to shut its doors. Even the most ardent supporter of the bill would have to assume that any business needs time to transition, right? Voted DOWN by the GOP
The other amendments and record of the full vote are available here.
All throughout the amendment process, House Reps Jessica Farrar, Dawnna Dukes, Trey Martinez-Fischer and others debated GOP members on why changes to the bill were needed. So there you have it... the GOP caucus doesn't truly care about what's best for Texas women, and they proved it through their votes. They don't care how many Doctors have to get put out of business, or how many people lose critical reproductive care. If so, then they would have passed any of several amendments to make the legislation more realistic. The above affirms that for the GOP, this bill is all about ratcheting up the religious Right flank so they can stay in office. Be on the lookout for more amendments in the next round.
Also important to note... What was formerly HB60 and SB5 in the first Special Session have been renamed HB2 and SB9 for this session.