The abortion battle just got even more intense. Today, the Texas House approved Senate Bill 5, a measure that will give the Lone Star State some of the country's tightest abortion laws if it's passed into law. After an all-night session, the House voted 95-34 in favor of implementing new restrictions on abortion. Along with banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the legislation would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals while also limiting abortions to surgical centers — essentially reducing the number of abortion clinics from 42 to five. While these changes won't go into effect unless they're approved by the Texas Senate and Governor Rick Perry, in practical terms, they would virtually ban abortion in the state.
Texas law already makes it difficult for women to have abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a woman seeking an abortion must receive counseling that includes information to discourage her from having an abortion. (Then, there's a 24-hour waiting period.) She must also undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion. All of this assumes that our hypothetical woman can even find an abortion provider, as 92% of Texas counties don't have one.
All of this is bad news for Texas women, and not just for those who are seeking abortions, either. While the current bill focuses on abortion, it's just the latest in a series that restricts health care for women. In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut the Department of State Health Services Family Planning program, and 53 women's healthcare clinics have closed since then. The state's Women's Health Program, which serves 130,000 women, lost its federal funding. (Funding has since been restored for 2014, but getting things back up to speed will take time.) And, with this new bill making it harder for abortion providers to stay legal, that means that access to their other healthcare services (including annual exams, mammograms, and contraception) could become scarce.
What's next? Texas Republicans are expected to use their majority power to push the measure through the state Senate before a special session wraps up tomorrow. Meanwhile, Governor Perry is supporting the anti-abortion measures. “We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease, and pain they cause,” he said earlier this month. Talk about messing with Texas women — and restricting their ability to make whatever choices are right for them.