The Senate State Affairs Committee approved six bills related to the regulation of abortion on March 16, including one that would reduce the time frame in which a woman can legally get an abortion. SB 8 would ban abortions after the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This typically occurs at around six weeks gestation. Hughes said that a heartbeat is a definitive indicator of human life. Ten other states have passed similar “heartbeat” legislation; all have been enjoined by federal courts. Hughes believes his bill would have a better chance of clearing court scrutiny because it assesses civil, rather than criminal or administrative penalties. As to what the US Supreme Court might eventually decide, Hughes said it’s up in the air. “A number of states have passed heartbeat bills, and many take different approaches from this one,” he said. “Those bills are all wending their way to the Supreme Court, so I think there are a lot of questions about what the Supreme Court does with heartbeat bills”.

Should the Court reverse itself, partially or totally, Senator Angela Paxton told the committee the state should be ready to immediately respond. She offered SB 9, which would provide both criminal and civil penalties against abortion providers in the event that states are given full authority to regulate abortion, whether through a decision by the Supreme Court or amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “In view of the possibility that the current court could reconsider and recognize the authority of the states in this matter, prudence, compassion and justice all direct that we posture ourselves as a state to immediately implement in Texas this protection for the unborn,” she said. Her bill would make it a first degree felony to intentionally perform an abortion. 

Paxton also laid out a bill that would add on to the information a woman is required to receive before having an abortion procedure. She said that surveys show that most women who have an abortion do so because they don’t think they will have the financial or social support to raise a child. SB 808 would require that clinics give women information about available assistance for health care, employment, housing and other programs to support the mother and the biological father should they bring the pregnancy to term. 

Also in committee, Senator Eddie Lucio of Brownsville put forth SB 394, which anticipates a decision by the federal government to relax restrictions on mail-order of abortifacients or “abortion pills”. Current FDA regulations prohibit the sale of certain drugs remotely due to a higher risk profile, but Lucio worries that those rules could change. His bill would codify current federal rules into Texas law and prevent the mail-order distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. 

Senator Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills presented legislation, SB 1135, that would outlaw any abortion based on race, ethnicity, gender or diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome or other disability. In cases where a severe abnormality indicates that a child will not long survive outside of the womb, the parents would be notified of palliative care options to support both them and the child should they choose not to have an abortion. 

Finally, Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels offered a bill that would close a loophole in the state’s law against public funding for abortion providers. Some cities offered indirect logistical support to abortion providers, such as child care, transportation, food or lodging. SB 650 would ban that kind of assistance as well. 

The committee heard from the public on these bills until midnight on March 15, then approved all six the next afternoon. The bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.

Richard Lee is a staff writer for Senate Media Services. The 87th Session of the Texas Legislature is his 10th session covering the Texas Senate.

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