Texas Lawmakers Advance Bill That Could Make Abortions Punishable By Death

Photo: Courtesy of House of Representatives.
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt
A total abortion ban criminalizing the procedure and classifying it as a homicide cleared a committee Tuesday and will now be debated at the Texas House of Representatives. If House Bill 896 becomes law, abortion could carry penalties ranging from a state jail felony to a capital felony, and patients who seek the procedure could in theory be punished with the death penalty.
The legislation, also known as the Abolition of Abortion Act, was introduced by Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt. The measure, which he also sponsored in 2017 before it died in committee, stipulates that embryos have the same rights as a "human child" starting at the moment of conception.
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The bill alters Texas' penal code, eliminating the exception for abortions from the definition of criminal homicide. Therefore, everyone involved in providing abortion care — from physicians and nurses to patients seeking this type of care — would face murder charges. HB896 makes no exceptions for rape, incest, or cases where the women's life is in danger. Tinderholt also proposed the legislation would be enforced "regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision," which would go directly against Roe v. Wade.
Texas has historically been ground zero for attacks on access to abortion care. The state already bans abortions after 21.6 weeks, requires women to wait 24 hours between receiving mandatory counseling on abortion care and undergoing the procedure, restricts the use of telemedicine to obtain abortion medication, among several other regulations. Texas was also at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court battle over House Bill 2 (HB2), a measure which led to the closure of about two dozen of the 44 clinics in the state. The court struck down the law in 2016, but the damage was done.
HB896 follows a troubling trend of total abortion bans introduced in states such as Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio — all which could potentially make the procedure punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. This type of extreme anti-abortion legislation is becoming increasingly common across the nation, since anti-choice lawmakers and activists are betting on the conservative majority of the Supreme Court to undermine or overturn Roe. This year alone, over a dozen of states have introduced measures to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected — which usually occurs at six weeks of pregnancy. In the past, these bans, which are unconstitutional due to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, mostly existed on the fringes. Now, they are being introduced and considered at an unprecedented rate. In total, more than 250 abortion restrictions aimed at limiting access to this type of reproductive care have been introduced at the state level since January.
"States ... are primed to pursue abortion bans since they have already adopted a slew of abortion restrictions designed to make it hard for patients to access services and for providers to keep their doors open," Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at Guttmacher Institute, previously told Refinery29. "The only restrictions left to enact are bans."
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