After almost six hours of sometimes heated, sometimes tearful debate Friday, the Texas House gave preliminary approval to legislation that would greatly expand abortion regulations in Texas.
Senate Bill 8 would require abortion clinics and health centers to ensure that fetal tissue from abortions and miscarriages are buried or cremated, with the ashes properly scattered — similar to a state agency rule that a federal judge voided earlier this year for limiting access to abortion without offering any health benefits.
The bill also prohibits two practices already banned by federal law — the sale of fetal body parts and a second-trimester procedure that some call partial-birth abortion — and bans the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research.
And, with another amendment that was adopted after a long, tense fight, SB 8 seeks to ban what supporters of the regulations termed “dismemberment abortions.”
“End this barbaric, inhuman practice of ripping living preborn human beings apart in the womb,” said the amendment’s author, Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth.
Democrats said the amendment seeks to ban “dilation and evacuation” abortions that physicians have determined to be the safest procedure — and the most commonly used — in the second trimester.
“Politicians have no place in the medical exam room,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. “We can sit here self-righteously and decide that we always know best for every person, but we do not. We do not.”
Howard tearfully said pregnancy, often a beautiful time, also can lead some women into “a very desperate situation where they will go to any means possible (to end it).”
“If you haven’t experienced that, you don’t know what that must be like,” she said. “Your changing this law will not make that go away; it will just make it unsafe.”
Klick defended the ban, saying other procedures are available for second-trimester abortions, including more humane methods that stop the fetal heart before dismemberment.
Similar laws have been enacted in seven other states, though courts have blocked four of them. Texas Democrats predicted that many of SB 8’s restrictions would similarly be overturned by the courts.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, recalled that just last year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned regulations the Legislature adopted in 2013 that would have closed all but nine abortion clinics in Texas.
“Why don’t we just stop passing unconstitutional laws for a change?” he said.
The Republican-led House rejected Democratic amendments that would have let women or abortion clinics refuse to bury or cremate fetal tissue if it violates a sincerely held religious beliefs. Democrats also were blocked from including exceptions for rape or incest in the fetal burial requirements.
But the House also rejected an amendment from Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, that would have removed an exception that allows abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy for “severe fetal abnormalities.”
Schaefer said he wanted to protect “babies who are created in the image of God,” whether sick or healthy.
“This will require the mother to carry to term a baby that will die in her arms at birth,” said Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville. “This is a termination of a pregnancy that is not viable, a baby that will not live. It is the most difficult thing a mother and family will go through.”
The House sponsor of SB 8 — Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale — said many of the bill’s provisions were intended to “address the sincere concerns expressed by tens of thousands of Texans … and to continue to respect life.”
The fetal burial provision was particularly important, she said, because it would replace current law that allows abortion clinics to incinerate fetal remains for disposal in a sanitary landfill.
The bill was approved 96-47, with a final vote expected Saturday that would return SB 8 to the Senate to consider the changes.