House panel mulls special session abortion items


The House State Affairs Committee heard public testimony on House Bills 14, 214 and 215 on Wednesday.

Later on Wednesday, Planned Parenthood supporters protested the bills at the Capitol.

Heeding Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda to address abortions, the House State Affairs Committee considered on Wednesday three bills that would require more reporting of such procedures as well as restricting insurance coverage of them and local government contracts with abortion providers and affiliates.

Similar bills have moved swiftly through the Senate.

House Bill 14 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, would prohibit local governmental entities, like cities and counties, from contracting with an abortion provider or an affiliate. The state pinched off all state funding for abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood in 2011.

It’s unclear how many local dollars are currently funnelled into such providers but the Planned Parenthood clinic on East Seventh Street in East Austin would likely be affected if the bill passes. For the last four decades, the clinic has leased city land, providing low-cost health services like well women exams and screenings for cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood officials say that the clinic has never offered abortions.

In Review: Abortion restrictions in the 85th Texas Legislature

“I … choose to go to Planned Parenthood because they do provide such compassionate care,” Austin resident Ali Bodin told committee members on Wednesday. Draped in a hospital gown, she and other Planned Parenthood supporters later demonstrated against the bills outside of the Capitol offices of Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Springer said during the hearing that low-income women don’t need Planned Parenthood because they can get services through the state’s Healthy Texas Women program. “We have those same abilities now,” he said.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, responded that not enough women know about the state’s program. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission which oversees the program, Healthy Texas Women in its first year of operation in 2016 served 16,000 women. In 2011, when Planned Parenthood was a provider in the state’s women’s health program, 115,000 women were served.

The committee also heard HB 214, which would ban standard coverage of elective abortions in private insurance plans and plans for state employees and under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the bill, by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, women who want insurance to cover the cost of an abortion would have to purchase separate coverage or a supplemental plan if offered by their insurer.

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“This bill would continue the longstanding policy in the state of Texas to promote child birth,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

Opponents, including officials from the League of Texas Women Voters, said that the bill would strip low-income women of their constitutional right to the procedure.

Also on Wednesday, the committee heard HB 215 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, which would require physicians to certify in writing the type of fetal abnormality that led to the decision for a third-trimester abortion. The bill also would require physicians who perform an abortion on a minor to report in the girl’s medical record as well as to the Department of State Health Services how consent was given, including whether it was through a parent or a court order.

Murphy said that the patient’s identity would be protected. “Lawmakers and health care providers will have better data for use in evaluating state programs and crafting policy,” he said.

Officials with the Texas chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a letter to the committee that the bill “creates an intrusion in the patient-physician relationship by requiring the reporting of sensitive and personal medical information.” The Texas Medical Association also had a similar concern.

The committee did not vote on the bills on Wednesday.

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