Texas Legislature considering bill limiting abortion access

In the midst of a national trend to pass legislation aimed at limiting access to abortion, the Texas House of Representatives is currently considering such a bill. 

 

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The Texas House placed Senate Bill 22 on the general calendar for consideration on Thursday. The bill is currently being considered on the House floor. A number of amendments have been added and all have been either tabled, or withdrawn at this point. 

SB 22, sponsored by Sen. Donna Campbell, creates restrictions between individual counties and abortion clinics. Should the law pass, it would give Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton permission to file injunctions to block agreements between clinics and counties. The bill would not allow county taxpayer dollars to be allocated to abortion clinics.

Licensed hospitals and private clinics that perform fewer than 50 abortions a year would be exempt.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the opposite chamber. House Bill 1929, sponsored by Rep. Candy Noble, creates similar restrictions on potential transactions between local counties and abortion clinics. This bill was left pending in committee after a public hearing in early April, and, as a result, its Senate counterpart has received greater consideration.

A series of similar bills were also considered during the 2017 legislative session. Those bills passed through the Senate, but were blocked by the House. This session, a change in committee structure, party composition, and leadership on the committee itself allowed SB 22 to advance in both chambers.

Public testimony on the bill revealed the ways in which public health could be impacted.

First, testifiers said individual county clinics could witness an overflow of patients. In cities like Houston and Austin, for example, several health care clinics operate under local control. Many are already at capacity. If clinics like Planned Parenthood close, it would force patients to seek care at these other facilities, which may lack capacity to provide care for the additional caseload.

During the House committee meeting, Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden testified against the bill, echoing this potential impact.

“Austin is very fortunate to have really good providers. However, the current system of providers doesn’t have the capacity to absorb these services if we lose them,” she told committee members during the hearing.

Second, patients who are uninsured or whose income rates are at or below the federal poverty level would potentially have to forgo care. In Houston, nearly 20% of residents go without health insurance and rely on clinics for care, according to city data. If many of those clinics were forced to close, it would result in a lack of care for several uninsured Texans.

Health care clinics that provide services like natural disaster disease testing, environmental disease testing, and immunization services could also be eliminated, according to testimony. While these clinics are often perceived as providing a limited number of women’s and sexual health services, they provide a wide range of health care services.

The Austin City Council, thirty public officials, and both the Mayors of Houston and Austin submitted a letter to Speaker Dennis Bonnen urging a reconsideration of the bill. The letter stated that this bill would “jeopardize public health outcomes…especially in a state with one of the highest rates of uninsured patients,” reports the Austin Chronicle.

As is the case in Texas, abortion policy generally creates partisan debate and public reaction. Several other states are in the process of passing abortion bills. In Missouri, for example, House Bill 126 is being considered on the House floor this morning. The bill seeks to ban abortions after eight weeks of gestation and includes a series of other provisions that limit the scope of abortion rights in the state.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed one of the most controversial and restrictive abortion laws that the state has considered. House Bill 314 bans abortion, except in the case of life-threatening conditions to the mother and in the case of lethal anomaly.

Four states have passed similar laws to the one passed in Alabama. Each of these laws has provisions that seek to hear the bill before the Supreme Court with the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Despite the continued focus of abortion in the state legislatures, abortion rates across the US have actually decreased in recent years. Data from the CDC reveals abortion declined nearly 27% from 2006 to 2015. The data shows that this decrease is partly a result of the Affordable Care Act and the availability of contraceptives to a larger population.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute demonstrates that abortion is most common among women who already have children. Twenty-three percent of women will have an abortion by the time they are in their mid-40s; 59% of those women already have at least one child. The data shows that, while national abortion rates have decreased, abortion is still common.

In each state, debates around abortion centered legislation have focused on the impact to public health and the long-term impacts of the passage of these laws. None of the legislation passed or considered this session is in practice at this time. For a detailed account of abortion provisions by state, click here.