By Chris Tomlinson
AUSTIN — A Texas Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would put tighter regulations on abortion facilities in Texas, a measure that some worry may force smaller clinics to close.
Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, defended his bill from fierce criticism on Tuesday that what he really was trying to do was impose a “back-door” ban on abortion.
“Abortion clinics are regulated by the state, but they are not regulated as a surgical facility. They are governed by a lower standard,” he said. “I am pro-life, I make no secret about that. I make no secret that I don’t think abortions should be legal, but I also face the reality that they are, and given that fact, I think we should take all precautions.”
Senate Bill 537 would only allow abortions in facilities that state regulators say qualify as an ambulatory surgical center, places with operating rooms for minor surgeries.
The bill also would require that women could only take an abortion inducing pill in the same facility.
The bill moved to the full Senate on a vote of 5-2, with Democrats opposing it.
Under current law, a woman may take an abortion-inducing pill in a doctor’s office and would be sent to hospital if she suffered complications and needed surgery.
Abortion rights supporters complain the new tougher standard for clinics would cause many women’s health clinics to shut down since they can’t meet the higher standards.
They say that rural and poor parts of the state will especially be affected.
“This bill places onerous requirements on health centers, requirements that do nothing to improve the health or safety of women,” said Carla Holeva, CEO of Planned Parenthood of West Texas. “Senate Bill 537 is a back door abortion ban, plain and simple. If passed, this bill would effectively end access to a safe and legal medical procedure in this state, which is harmful for women’s health.”
Deuell adamantly denied that his bill would deny women access to an abortion, though he acknowledged that out of 38 abortion clinics in Texas, only five would meet the new requirement. The proposed law would only apply to facilities that provide more than 40 abortions a year.
“I would respectfully say that anyone opposing this bill is saying that they don’t think women who have made the decision to have an abortion should have the very, very best of medical care,” said Deuell, who is also a doctor.
Anti-abortion groups, including Texas Right to Life and Texas Alliance for life, praised the proposed law.
Tama Chunn, representing Life Advocates, said the higher standards are needed because women sometimes suffer side-effects from abortions that need medical attention.
“I want to see abortion overturned, of course, but as long as it is legal, I don’t want to see women injured on top of the children who are massacred,” she said.
But the owner of the Routh Street Women’s Clinic in Dallas, Valerie Braun, insisted the more stringent requirements were unnecessary.
“A patient does not need to go to an ambulatory surgical center to take a pill,” she said. The six clinics that could continue operating are all in large cities, she added, warning that women may begin to seek illegal abortions in other areas if the bill passed.