Saturday, July 13, 2013
Texas just passed one of the strictest abortion laws in the country.
The state's Senate adopted a bill close to midnight on Friday that bans abortions after 20 weeks and will force the closure of all but a handful of the clinics that perform them.
The law's 20-week ban is based on the idea that a fetus feels pain after that time. That not only flies in the face of the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which says abortions are permissible until a fetus is viable outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, but it's disputed by many doctors.
Sen. Wendy Davis and a bevy of protesters successfully filibustered the bill last month, but Republican Gov. Rick Perry called another special session so Republican lawmakers could vote on the bill again.
This time they won. And women's rights organizations say there will be some dire consequences.
Perry and other Republicans have said the law is necessary to protect innocent lives. But organizations like Planned Parenthood counter the law will harm women. And not just women seeking abortions.
Low-income and minority women are disproportionately more likely to lack health insurance, and many rely on healthcare clinics that also perform abortions for things like STD testing and cancer screenings.
The problem is, with the bill's requirements that abortion-performing clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and meet the same standards as surgical centers, many of those clinics will be forced to close.
Many simply cannot afford to make the changes, like widening hallways and setting up waiting rooms. While they could stop performing abortions to avoid the changes, Kathryn Hearns, a Planned Parenthood worker in Hidalgo County, told ABC News-Univision earlier this month that abortions are a vital part of what they offer.
She fears more women will go to Mexico for illegal and often unsafe abortions. Women in rural areas will be particularly disadvantaged, since the only clinics that currently meet the strict standards are in urban areas.
As Bloomberg News noted, some women who aren't near an abortion clinic or are too poor to afford one already turn to black market abortion-inducing pills at flea markets. Opponents of the bill worry that number could now increase.
Republican Sen. Glenn Hegar, the bill's author, said on the Senate floor Friday that it was not his intention for women to travel to Mexico or a flea market for an abortion.
"Any situation like that is deplorable and that is what we do not want to have," he said. "This legislation is not doing that because they're already doing that."
Women's rights organizations immediately decried the ruling and the way in which it was passed during a special session.
People entering the Capitol reported that state troopers stationed at the entrance confiscated tampons, maxi pads and other things that could be used as projectiles. Registered guns, on the other hand, were allowed.
Opponents have vowed to take the new law to court, where it may not stand up. Courts have already blocked restrictive laws in states like Georgia and Arizona. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have challenged laws in others. But restrictive laws remain in place where they have not been challenged, often in direct contradiction to Roe v. Wade.
While Texas does skew more conservative than much of the nation when it comes to abortions, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, just 38 percent of Texans want to make abortion laws stricter. But they also bristle at the idea of restricting abortion access severely.
"This will not prevent abortions," wrote one woman on the comment section of the Texas Tribune's livestream of the Senate's debate, "it will only prevent safe abortions."