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A week after the state Senate approved abortion restrictions, fight turns to Texas House

Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman

A week after the Texas Senate approved a slate of bills to ban or restrict abortion, the fight shifted Wednesday to the House, where a committee began work on similar bills in a public hearing that drew keen interest from both sides.

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, a Fort Worth Republican who leads the Public Health Committee, announced that she planned to end the hearing at midnight, directing witnesses who get shut out of testifying to submit written opinions on the House public comment portal.

Comment on the bills will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday, she said.

With six bills on the committee's agenda, the hearing began with legislation that would ban abortion from the moment of conception if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down its 1973 ruling that established a right to abortion.

Aerial view of the Texas Capitol.

What would the Texas abortion bills do?

House Bill 1280, known as a trigger bill, also would allow Texas to ban abortion to the extent allowed if the Supreme Court didn't completely overturn its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

More:Why anti-abortion advocates think the Texas 'fetal heartbeat' bill can survive a court challenge

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said his bill would take effect 30 days after the court rules, adding that the early preparation would save time, particularly because the court's new conservative majority could deliver such a decision while the Legislature is out of session.

"I am pretty optimistic, given what the Supreme Court makeup is, in large part thanks to the previous administration," he said. "The bill will save tens of thousands of lives."

Under questioning from Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, Capriglione defended his bill's lack of exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, saying, "There is no justice in executing the child for the terrible violent crime of anyone else."

Capriglione also said his bill would not allow abortion if pregnancy put a woman's health at risk, drawing several skeptical questions from Zwiener until a Republican committee member reminded him that such an exception was written into the bill. In reality, HB 1280 allows abortions for a "life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy."

Capriglione added that he did not consider abortion to be health care, saying, "It is also my job as a legislator to take care of unborn children."

"I hope," Zwiener shot back, "we have as much consideration for the people carrying them."

Tough penalties

The bill includes tough penalties for abortion doctors, including a possible term of life in prison and a fine of $100,000 for each infraction, but public testimony tended to focus on the moral, religious and ethical debate over abortion.

The Rev. Amelia Fulbright, a Baptist minister in Austin, urged the committee to reject attempts to restrict abortion.

"It plays on the good faith of devout Christians for an unholy purpose, and this legislation is an attempt to make a sectarian religious view into law, which is both deeply unconstitutional and, I believe, also deeply un-Christian," she said.

But Shannon Jaquette, policy analyst for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said Texas first banned abortion in 1854.

"Supporting pro-life laws is part of our history and heritage as Texans," she said. "We urge you to pass this bill to express Texas' continued commitment to protecting unborn life."

More:State legislators weigh lighter penalties for marijuana possession

Other bills

Other Republican-authored bills before the committee Wednesday were:

• HB 1515, which would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as the sixth week of gestation, before most women know they are pregnant.

• HB 2337, which would limit the use of abortion-inducing drugs to about the seventh week of pregnancy, about three weeks earlier than allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and ban such drugs from being sent to patients by mail or delivery.

• HB 3218, which would ban late-term abortions in cases of severe fetal abnormality or conditions expected to be fatal before or shortly after birth. The bill also would ban "discriminatory" abortions based on the race, ethnicity, sex or disability of the fetus.

• HB 3760, which combines HB 1515, the heartbeat bill, with HB 3218.

• HB 2313, requiring women to be provided with a pre-abortion offer of financial and other assistance, paid by the state at an estimated $7 million per year, with the offer provided by a professional who is not affiliated with an abortion provider.

Approval is expected when the committee, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 6-5, votes on the measures, sending them to the full House.

The six bills are similar to legislation already approved by the Senate.