79th Texas Legislative Session (2005)

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Although the 79th Legislature did not muster the strength to pass any of the multiple freestanding Pro-Life bills filed due to committee roadblocks, points of order, and substantial political infighting, several major Pro-Life victories came in the form of “under the radar” amendments.  A few key legislators creatively looked for ways to advance the Pro-Life movement through amendments.

Bills That Passed:

Health Care Coverage and Counseling for Pregnant Women

For many women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, abortion is not the preferred choice, but financial crisis often leaves them feeling trapped.  In fact, twenty-one percent of women who choose abortion list inadequate finances as the primary reason for abortion.1 Three amendments were adopted during the 79th session that will help ensure that a woman is never forced to have an abortion due to her financial circumstances.  First, Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) successfully attached a provision to Senate Bill 1 allocating $5 million for programs that specialize in abortion alternatives.  Although Planned Parenthood and abortion-related organization are delegated over $50 million in state funds each biennium, this will be the first time in Texas history that funds are dedicated to helping women and their unborn children receive the necessary prenatal care and/or parenting guidance.  Second, Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) offered an amendment to the same bill to include unborn children as eligible recipients of health care insurance under the state-funded Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  Prior to this amendment, unborn children were not recognized as persons, and therefore, were not eligible for health care benefits.  Finally, Rep. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) attached an amendment to SB 1188 (a Medicaid bill) requiring all physicians who offer Medicaid health care services to inform each pregnant woman of the state-funded health benefits for which she and her unborn child may be eligible.

Ban on Third Trimester Abortions

Rep.Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) successfully amended SB 419 (the Board of Medical Examiners Sunset Bill) to prohibit physicians or applicants for a medical license from performing third trimester abortions of a viable unborn child.  Prior to the Hartnett amendment, Texas statute had an archaic ban on third trimester abortions that allowed a physician to abort a viable unborn child if such physician thought that a continuance of the pregnancy would cause the death of the mother or severe impairment of the woman’s physical or mental health.  Due to the potentially broad interpretation of what constitutes severe impairment of a woman’s physical or mental health, the ban had little or no effect.  The Hartnett amendment renders more effective the original third trimester abortion ban by narrowing the definition of severe physical impairment and by removing the mental health exception, a major loophole of the pre-existing language.

Parental Consent

The second Hartnett amendment to SB 419 mandates parental consent for minor abortions.  Specifically, the amendment states that a physician cannot perform an abortion on an unemancipated minor without the written consent of the child’s parent, legal guardian, or managing conservator.  (The judicial bypass provision in Chapter 33 of the Family Code will still allow a minor to bypass her parents if a judge deems it necessary).  Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) strengthened the amendment by requiring the Texas Board of Medical Examiners to create a standardized parental consent form.  The parental consent amendment as a whole leaves a few issues unresolved.  First, notarized or in-person parental consent is not required, allowing any person (including the minor) to forge a parent’s signature on the consent form.  Second, even if an adult is present at the abortion clinic to sign the consent form, there is no required verification of the adult’s status as the parent or legal guardian, allowing sexual predators to pose as the parent, sign the form, and force the minor to have the abortion.  Finally, no specific legal penalties are outlined for a physician that is in non-compliance with parental consent, providing little or no incentive to comply.  The only potential penalty included in the portion of the Occupations Code (to which parental consent was amended) is permission for the Board of Medical Examiners to execute disciplinary action if they so choose.  These issues were covered in the major freestanding Pro-Life bills filed during the 79th but could not be adequately addressed in succinct floor amendments.  Although a step toward strengthening the current parental involvement statute, implementation and enforcement of the consent amendment will be tricky.

Bills that Did Not Pass:

Human Cloning Prohibition Act
House Sponsor: Phil King (R-Weatherford)
Senate Sponsor: Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria)

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act prohibits the creation of cloned humans for research or for reproductive purposes.  Due to the intense and well-funded efforts of numerous patient advocacy groups, medical centers, and biotech firms, the cloning battle was fought mostly on the defensive end during the 79th session.  House Bill 1929 sponsored by Rep. Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) would have legalized human cloning in Texas and given scientists a legal foothold to create human embryos solely for destructive research purposes.  Although eventually stalled in the committee process, that bill directly conflicted with the Human Cloning Prohibition Act that would have banned all forms of human cloning.  Because some of elected officials refuse to accept the humanity of human embryos, they supported the Woolley bill since that bill legalized the creation of cloned human embryos strictly for research purposes, but then mandated the destruction of these tiny embryonic humans.  Meanwhile, on a positive note, $1 million in state funds was allocated to supplement the efforts of umbilical cord blood banks in Texas.  Umbilical cord blood stem cells are one of the myriad types of stem cell research that do not present ethical controversy as their use does not destroy innocent human Life.  Thanks to such funding initiatives, Texas will continue to excel both in scientific endeavors and ethical responsibility.

Child Predator Prevention Act
House Sponsor: Carl Isett (R-Lubbock)
Senate Sponsor: Kim Brimer (R-Fort Worth)

The Child Predator Prevention Act provides penalties for anyone who forces or attempts to force a woman to have an abortion.  The Act also strengthens Parental Notification by requiring that the adult accompanying a minor to an abortion clinic show proof of guardianship and sign an affidavit.  Such a requirement will protect young girls from sexual predators who pose as parents in order to force them to abort and cover their sexual crime.

Woman’s Health Protection Act
House Sponsor: Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria)
Senate Sponsor: Florence Shapiro (R-Plano)

The Woman’s Health Protection Act facilitates the collection of important statistical data on abortion in Texas by requiring accurate and efficient reporting.  The Act also protects women by establishing a procedure for reporting abortion-related complications and requires the reporting of the number of judicial bypasses granted or denied by each county.

Health Care Service Protection Act
House Sponsor: Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker)
Senate Sponsor: Bob Deuell (R-Mesquite)

The Health Care Service Protection Act states that a health care provider, health care facility, or health insurer cannot be discriminated against for conscientiously objecting to a health care service that conflicts with their creed.  Texas Occupational Code Section 103.001 currently covers physicians, nurses, and medical students who choose to abstain from participating in abortion procedures.  However, the Code does not cover all health care providers, and objections to health care services other than abortion are not protected.  The Health Care Service Protection Act will offer broad and inclusive protection and appropriately update the Occupational Code.

Looking forward

Looking ahead to the 80th legislative session which will convene in January 2007, we are compiling a wish list from elected officials that would like to see more Pro-Life action than in the 79th.  During the interim, we hope to meet and strategize with most of the House and Senate members in their districts to build a more effective consensus for the 80th session.

1.  Torres and Forrest, as cited by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and the Alan Guttmacher Institute in An Overview of Abortion in the United States (October 2001)