85th Legislative Session Wrap-up: Texas Fails Women Once Again

Monday was the last day of the 85th Texas Legislative Session and once again extreme legislators demonstrated a total disregard for the health and wellbeing of Texas women. In total, lawmakers filed nearly 40 anti-abortion regulations — several of which passed under the now multi-part Senate Bill (SB) 8. The 2018-2019 budget continues to block patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood through  state health programs and goes even further to cut Planned Parenthood off from all state funding — period.

While extremists were able to claim several victories off the backs of women who will now face further obstacles to getting reproductive health care, our women’s health champions in the legislature were able to defeat a number of cruel and unnecessary bills.

BILLS PASSED

SB 8 is the most significant and restrictive anti-abortion regulation since 2013, when the Texas Legislature passed HB 2 — the law struck down by the Supreme Court just last summer. The bill, by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), started as a ban on the donation of fetal tissue for medical research and on an abortion method already illegal at the federal level. After six-hours of debate on the House floor during which extreme legislators piled on further restrictions, SB 8 grew into a dangerous and cruel multi-part bill. The bill now also requires fetal tissue from an abortion procedure to be buried or cremated, even if the patient’s health was at risk or she was a victim of rape or incest and bans the safest, most common method for second trimester abortion. While the vast majority of abortion procedures take place in the first trimester, some health risks to pregnant women may not become apparent early in pregnancy and identification of fetal anomalies most often occur during the second trimester. Banning the safest method for these abortions forces doctors to resort to alternatives that may not be what they, based on their professional judgment, think is best for their patient. SB 8 imposes an excessive burden on patients seeking access to safe, legal abortion and similar provisions have already been challenged in court. In anticipation of a ruling against the constitutionality of SB 8, lawmakers included a “severability” clause that will keep the rest of the bill intact if any one piece is struck down by the courts.

HB 2858 by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), requiring abortion facilities to post human trafficking signage, passed as an amendment to HB 2552. Planned Parenthood supports requiring all health care facilities in Texas to be trained to identify human trafficking and intimate partner violence. However, this amendment singles out abortion providers and further stigmatizes abortion. Human trafficking experts say that victims are likely to be intercepted in emergency rooms, doctors offices, and even dentist offices and a genuine effort to help victims would include a variety of health care providers. Meanwhile, lawmakers opted to cut funding from sex trafficking victims’ services out of the state budget.

SB 1, or the state budget for 2018-2019, continues to block low-income women from accessing care at Planned Parenthood through the Healthy Texas Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Services programs because some health centers also provide abortion services. Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) went even further by adding  a budget rider that prevents Planned Parenthood from receiving any state funds whatsoever, threatening health centers’ ability to provide critical health care and education to communities in need. At the same time, the budget allocates up to $38,300,000 for the Alternatives to Abortion program, which funnels money to crisis pregnancy centers known to mislead and deceive women in an attempt to coerce women against having an abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers generally provide no health care services at all.

BILLS DEFEATED

SB 20 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would have banned insurance companies from providing abortion coverage in private health plans and those available through the Affordable Care Act. This bill made no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormality, and explicitly put women’s health and wellbeing at risk by not allowing a person to insure themselves for all emergency situations.

SB 25 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R – Conroe) would have allowed doctors to withhold vital information from a patient about her own pregnancy by taking away the patient’s legal recourse. This bill was nothing more than yet another attempt by anti-abortion activists to chip away at the already narrow exception for fetal abnormalities.

HB 2962 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) would have required additional extensive reporting related to abortion complications despite the fact that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States and that Texas already has robust reporting systems in place. An alarmingly invasive amendment proposed to the bill during floor debate would have required women who experience an abortion complication to disclose their marital status, last menstrual period, and other personal information to be recorded in a state database.

A number of proactive women’s health bills also died before the deadline this session. HB 745 by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would have eliminated the mandatory 24-hour waiting period before a patient can have an abortion. HB 1373 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) would have allowed minors who are already parents to access birth control without parental consent.

Years of hostile policies have already left tens of thousands of Texas women without access to cancer screenings, birth control, and safe, legal abortion. Together, we keep fighting for a legislature that will work for health care access for all Texans.