At The Texas Tribune Festival this weekend, four state lawmakers discussed the future of abortion and women's health care with the help of a very vocal audience.
The only Democrat who voted for the omnibus abortion bill, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and the only Republican who voted against it, state Rep. Sarah Davis, joined Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell and Democratic state Rep. Jessica Farrar on the stage.
The hourlong session began with a brief recap of the regular session when Republican and Democratic legislators worked together to restore Texas' family planning budget which had been gutted two years prior. But the discussion quickly turned to the abortion bills in the special sessions, spurring a heated debate that left Donna Campbell regurgitating evidenceless conservative mantras and rendered Eddie Lucio mostly silent.
Read more about the debate over family planning funds and restricted access to abortion after the jump.To begin the discussion, Tribune editor and panel moderator Emily Ramshaw asked the four legislators how a mostly cooperative regular session resulted in a chaotic and divisive special session.
Although all of the panelists agreed that there was no Republican conspiracy to cooperate on family planning and then sneak abortion restrictions into the special session, Rep. Farrar reminded the audience that the abortion bills failed in the regular session. “It was about the 2014 elections,” she said.
Most Democrats maintain that the abortion restrictions are a harmful solution without a problem, a belief evidenced by a recent investigation by The Texas Tribune that found abortion clinics to be heavily regulated and consistently safe.
When Ramshaw mentioned the investigation, Sen. Campbell responded by claiming that the bills “err on the side of safety.” She asked the audience, “Is there anybody here that would knowingly choose a substandard facility?”
I should note that none of the legal, regulated abortion clinics in Texas are “substandard,” according to both the Tribune investigation and a recent state report on Texas abortion clinics. However, substandard abortion facilities and practices do exist — in flea market pharmacies and back alley clinics, where women have knowingly chosen to receive an abortion if safe and legal clinics were too expensive or far away.
Moreover, forcing clinics to upgrade to include surgical suites when they only provide the abortion pills is not safe, Rep. Davis added. “We'll see longer waits, which means you may no longer have the option of a pharmacological abortion, and you will have to have a surgical one,” she said.
The panelists then began discussing the 20-week ban provision of the abortion restrictions. Rep. Farrar emphasized that the restrictions disproportionately affect victims of rape and incest who may take longer to come forward about their unintended pregnancies.
Rep. Davis added that she doesn't believe in post-20 week abortions as birth control, which is why she wrote an amendment for women with health problems and victims of rape and incest. The amendment was not on the final version of the bill.
She also expressed doubt that the 20-week ban provision would hold up in court.
“There is not a court in this country that has upheld any of these 20-week bans,” she said.
Ramshaw later asked the panelists about the future of family planning and abortion legislation in Texas. Rep. Davis and Rep. Farrar both emphasized the need to improve the family planning budget, which currently includes three separate areas of funding and excludes Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program.
Rep. Davis, a breast cancer survivor, also talked about her plan to file legislation regarding the Right to Know pamphlet that physicians are required to provide to women seeking abortions. The pamphlet includes language that claims there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, although there is no sound evidence for that claim.
When asked, Campbell would not confirm whether she would support that bill. In the next legislative session, she plans to make herself busy with more anti-choice bills. After admitting that abortion was “the law of the land,” she claimed that “If it were up to me, I would ban all abortions.”
During the question-and-answer period of the panel, one question sparked dialogue on the admitting privileges provision of the bill, which is currently being challenged in federal court. The provision requires doctors to practice within 30 miles of a hospital where they are allowed to practice medicine. Opponents of the provision argue that it is an undue burden on abortion practitioners, as a patient in a hospital would already have access to care from medical professionals who work in the hospital.
Rep. Farrar claimed that the admitting privileges provision is especially detrimental for women in the Rio Grande Valley, because religious hospitals often refuse to grant privileges in order to avoid controversy.
After Sen. Campbell implied that a doctor who couldn't get admitting privileges may not provide quality care, Rep. Davis shot back, “As an emergency medical physician, I assume you would know that if a person shows up [at an E.R.], they must be treated.”
By the end of the hour, Eddie Lucio was offering one-sentence answers about every five minutes and Donna Campbell had resorted to answering questions with “That [ensuring health care for women]is not [legislators'] responsibility.” If the session was any indication of what's to come for women's health care, even harsher constraints may be filed in the 2015 Texas Legislature.