Texas lawmakers hear testimony on abortion and fetal tissue bills

Lawmakers supporting the bills say they focus on the sanctity of life, and dignity for an unborn fetus, but others say the committee isn't protecting the health of women.

AUSTIN - Approximately 150 people testified to the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday regarding three bills relating to abortion and fetal tissue.

Lawmakers supporting the bills said they focus on the sanctity of life and dignity for an unborn fetus.

But others said the committee isn't protecting the health of women.

"This bill is meant to address the sincere concern to express by tens of thousands of Texans including myself," said Senator Charles Schwertner of Georgetown.

Schwertner, who is also the chairman of the Health and Human Services committee, filed SB 8, which would ban the buying or selling of human fetal tissue from an elective abortion.

He said he wants to take the monetary incentive out of an abortion.

"Make it very clear that the State of Texas will not accept, will not tolerate monetary gain from fetal tissue," said Schwertner.

The bill also prohibits partial-birth abortions (which are already banned on a federal level), makes it a criminal offense to exchange human tissue, prohibits soliciting for fetal tissue for research purposes, prohibits financial incentives for woman who have an abortion to donate human fetal tissue, and increases the criminal penalties for the purchase or sale of human fetal tissue from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor.

The legislation would allow the father of the fetus or the parents of the woman to sue the woman in certain circumstances.

It also only allows authorized medical centers to donate tissue from a miscarriage to an accredited instruction for the purpose of academic research, requires doctors to certify that they didn't alter the abortion procedure in any way to better obtain fetal tissue, and requires providers to maintain donation records for up to seven years after the donation.

"The elective aspect of it is what is concerning," said Schwertner. "Elective plus profit motive can lead to situations in which fetal tissue donations is abused."

Schwertner said the issue came to light after a series of videos were released in 2015 which appeared to show Planned Parenthood employees talking about the sale of human fetal tissue. They discussed it at the hearing Wednesday. 

"Do you have any evidence that failing to pass this bill will cause a negative health impact?" said Senator Kirk Watson.

"I believe the Planned Parenthood videos show the need to put in certain protections for women undergoing abortion procedures in the state of Texas," said Schwertner.

"So other than your interpretation or belief of those videos, do you have any evidence that failing to pass this bill would cause a negative impact?" said Watson.

"That's not just my view, I think it's the view of tens of thousands of Texans across the state," said Schwertner.

Watson questioned Schwertner on another point in the bill.

"There is no exemption in your bill for a woman who is a victim of rape if she makes a determination that she wishes to terminate a pregnancy that is a result of rape," said Watson.

"That is correct if is an elected abortion for whatever reason than it is prohibited in this bill," said Schwertner.  "It does not prohibit the abortion, it prohibits the donation of fetal tissue that might be obtained from that elective abortion."

Jennifer Allmon, with the Catholic Conference of Bishops, supports the bill.

"Negotiations and payment for human organs reduces human remains to a commodity," said Allmon.

"There is an industry of trafficking body parts that harvested from children who die from abortion and that needs to stopped. We do need to shut that down," said Joe Pojman, the Executive Director of Texas Alliance for Life.

But not everyone agrees.

"This is about putting politics ahead of healthcare and shaming women across our state," said Kathy Miller, the president of Texas Freedom Network.

"We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and that includes women," said Becky Edmiston-Lang from the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry.

Senator Charles Perry filed SB 415, which would relate to dismemberment abortions. If a woman is going through that type of abortion, the bill requires the medical professional to terminate the fetus life before extracting it.

"This bill ends the barbaric practice of ending the life of an unborn by dismembering him or her piece by piece causing them to bleed to death in the womb," said Perry.

"There are very few procedures that could be as painful as tearing apart a living fetus limb from limb," said Doctor Donna Harrison as she testified about a fetus feeling painful stimuli in the second trimester.  "Mothers actually prefer to know that their fetus was dead before being ripped apart."

But, Perry made sure to tell those who questioned, that the bill doesn't end abortion altogether.

"We're not prohibiting abortion we're not prohibiting the D&E process, we're just saying you have to terminate the baby beforehand," said Perry.

The third bill the committee discussed was SB 258, filed by Senator Don Huffines. It requires women going through an abortion to choose what happens to the fetus after the procedure.

"Today the remains of unborn humans are put into garbage disposals and land fills. Worse than that, some aborted babies never find a resting place," said Huffines.

Women can choose to have the fetus buried, cremated, handle it herself with state regulations, or have a medical provider dispose of it.

Huffines said the bills deals with the dignity of the unborn.

"This is about dealing with it after the fact," said Huffines. 

Pojman supports SB 258.

"Many women need a place to go to grieve the loss of a child, whether that's a miscarriage or an abortion," said Pojman.

According to KVUE's partners at the Austin-American Statesman, In January a judge blocked the state's attempt at limiting the disposal of fetal remains to burial or cremation

"I think that the bill's authors are painting a worse case scenario and people who provide who abortion care in Texas make sure its safe and make sure it's dignified," said Miller.

"People will still get abortions if they want to but only the wealthier people will be able to do it safely," said Barbara Crotty with Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry.

Some argue the bills don't address the health issues of women.

"Can you point me to anything in this bill that enhances a pregnant woman's health or safety?" said Senator Kirk Watson as he questioned Senator Huffines about his bill.

"My bill's not about that, it strictly deals with the dignity of the unborn, and that is a profound purpose for the state of Texas," said Huffines.

"I'm very disappointed. It's clear that anti-abortion senators from Texas are using today's hearing to shame women. In fact, they even admitted that their anti-abortion legislation has nothing to do with women's health and safety," said Miller.

"Enhancing the health and safety of the woman involved is not the purpose," said Senator Kirk Watson while questioning Senator Perry on his bill.

"Not the target," said Perry. "Not the intent of SB 415."

"We believe that women should have the ability to make their own decisions about their reproductive health," said Edmiston-Lang.

Wednesday, the ACLU of Texas also released a statement saying the anti-abortion bills "would threaten Texas women's health, privacy, and constitutional right to an abortion."

The Senate committee said the bills are now "pending," which means they'll vote on them at a later date.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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