Senate health panel approves three abortion bills

  • Julie Chang
  • Johnathan Silver
  • American-Statesman Staff
7:13 p.m Friday, July 21, 2017 Texas News & Politics
The state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, considered abortion-related bills Friday at the Texas Capitol. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The state Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved five bills Friday, including three that would expand abortion-related regulations.

A fourth bill approved by the panel Friday would require that health care facilities like a hospital or hospice ensure that do-not-resuscitate orders are disclosed to patients or their medical decision-makers and the orders don’t go against a competent patient’s wishes.

The committee voted 6-3 along party lines to send those four bills to the full Senate for approval as soon as Monday. The panel unanimously approved a measure to extend the work of a state task force investigating maternal mortality in Texas.

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Among the most contentious abortion bills heard Friday was Senate Bill 4, which would ban local governmental entities, like a city, county or hospital district, from partnering with an abortion provider or an organization affiliated with an abortion provider. The Legislature in 2011 banned state dollars from going to abortion providers.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, pressed the author of the bill Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, to say whether the bill was targeting Planned Parenthood specifically.

“If the clinic closes…isn’t that what you’re after?” Watson said.

“No, my concern is taxpayer dollars being utilized to subsidize abortion providers and their affiliates,” Schwertner said.

The bill likely would affect the Planned Parenthood clinic at 1823 E. 7th St. in Austin, which has leased its land from the city of Austin for the last four decades, said Sarah Wheat with Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.

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Wheat said the clinic has never provided abortions but rather offers a suite of gynecological services, including contraception, and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and cervical and breast exams at discounted costs for low-income women.

“It’s a lease supported by the elected officials that Austin voters elected,” Wheat told the American-Statesman. “The concern here is that these are state elected officials that are now dictating what local communities can do and how they can address public health issues.”

The panel also passed SB 10 which would require physicians and health care facilities to report to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission abortion-related complications within 72 hours. Such complications would range from allergic responses and infection to death of the patient and incomplete abortions. Failing to comply would lead to a $500 civil penalty or loss of licenses for repeated offenses.

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Supporters such as Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said currently available data is inaccurate and that SB 10 would fix it. Opponents of the bill, though, said making such reports would make it easier to reveal the identities of people having abortions.

Also approved was SB 73, which would require that when performing an abortion on a minor, the physician report to the state and in the minor’s medical records details about where and how consent was given, whether it was through parent or a physician, for example.