As the Texas Senate passed the most comprehensive abortion legislation in the country on July 12, my friend Molly White was seated in the crowded galleries in Austin while I watched the entire session at home on my computer, via live streaming video.
I met White three years ago at the Global NGO Forum in Berlin. The purpose of the forum was the 15-year review of the U.N. International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). While the original document says, “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning,” the document is now being used to promote an international right to abortion.
After 13 years of trauma, following two abortions, White turned her life around and organized an international effort to educate delegates and U.N. ambassadors on the sanctity of life and the harmful effects of abortion to encourage world leaders and policymakers to defend life and motherhood.
White lives in Texas. That is why I knew she would be in the galleries on that final night for passage of HB2 in the Texas Senate.
“Personal and heartbreaking stories of unimaginable tragedy” have been shared during the many weeks of debate, said Sen. Charles Schwertner in his speech on the Senate floor, in support of HB2. Among those testimonies, on July 1, was White's. In addition to her own testimony, she presented 900 legally admissible testimonies of other Texas women with tragic examples of botched and forced abortions.
Sen. Donna Campbell referenced the affidavits of women who had abortion complications, in her speech on the Senate floor. She also told of the 23 years she worked as an emergency room physician, and the complications from abortions she witnessed — physical and psychological. She defended the need for improved abortion facilities to keep infections down and provide wider hall space for gurneys in case of an emergency.
Sen. Jane Nelson also spoke in support of HB2 and said it would provide a “safe, medically appropriate environment” for abortion clinics and save the life of a woman seeking an abortion if something goes wrong. She emphasized that, “It may seem irrelevant to opponents, but I can assure you those issues will be very relevant to the woman whose life is in danger.”
On the other side of the issue, Sen. Judith Zaffirini said, “I’m pro-life,” but I cannot support the bill because “limited access to legal abortion will cause women to resort to desperate measures.” She opposed requiring abortion clinics to comply with the same laws as ambulatory surgical centers.
Later, in a telephone conversation with White, I asked her about the speech of Zaffirini. White responded, “Being pro-life is being pro-woman, and if you are not concerned about the safety of the women and their babies — especially women thinking of getting an abortion at a substandard facility — you are really not pro-life.”
Back on the Senate floor, Sen. Dan Patrick said, “We have not talked enough about the babies. It’s time we recognized it’s a baby! What choice does the baby have? Who speaks for the baby?” He then spoke as if talking to a baby and said, “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t convenient for you just now. Would you mind dying?”
At that point in Patrick’s speech there was an outburst in the gallery. His speech was delayed until officers were able to remove the woman from the Senate gallery.
He then continued, “It’s about a baby’s life — at five months. If you listen to the people of Texas, the people of Texas do not support late-term abortions. And everyone supports improving women’s health care.”
The bill, as finally passed and reported in the Texas Tribune, would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and recognize that the state has a compelling interest to protect fetuses from pain; require doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the abortion facility; require doctors to administer the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 in person, rather than allowing the woman to take it at home; and require abortions — including drug-induced ones — to be performed in clinics equal to ambulatory surgical centers.
Gov. Rick Perry, in responding to the final bill, said, “This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health. I am proud of our lawmakers and citizens who tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable Texans and future Texans."
Susan Roylance is the international policy and social development coordinator for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.