House panel mulls abortion bills on Wednesday

Heeding Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda to address abortions, a House panel considered on Wednesday three bills that would require more reporting of such procedures as well as further restricting funding for them.

Similar bills have passed through the Senate over the last few days.

House Bill 14 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, would prohibit local governmental entities, like cities and counties, from contracting with an abortion provider or an affiliate. The state pinched off all state funding for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood in 2011.

It’s unclear how many local dollars are funnelled into such providers but the Planned Parenthood clinic on East 7th Street in East Austin would likely be affected if the bill passes. For the last four decades, the clinic has leased city land to provide low-cost health services like well women exams and screenings for cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood officials say that the women has never offered abortions through the clinic.

“It’s really attacking that opportunity for somebody who can’t afford health care,” said Shanna Lee, an Austin resident who has used Planned Parenthood for health care.

Springer said that through the state’s Healthy Texas Women program, low-income women have options for services that aren’t Planned Parenthood. “We have those same abilities now,” he said.

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission which oversees the program, Healthy Texas Women in 2016, the first year of operation, served 16,000 women. In 2011, when Planned Parenthood was still a provider women the state’s women’s health program, 115,000 women were served.

Another bill that critics say would cut funding for such procedures is HB 214 which would ban standard coverage of elective abortions in private insurance, insurance for state employees and under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the bill, whose author is Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, women who want insurance to cover the cost of an abortion would have to purchase separate coverage or a supplemental plan if offered by their insurer.

“This bill would continue the longstanding policy in the State of Texas to promote child birth,” said Joe Pogman with Texas Alliance for Life.

Opponents, including the League of Texas Women Voters, said that such procedures will be unaffordable to many low-income women seeking abortions and the bill stands to strip women of their constitutional right to the procedure.

Also on Wednesday, the committee heard HB 215 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, would require physicians to certify in writing the form of fetal abnormality identified for third trimester abortions. It would also require physicians who perform an abortion on a minor, to report in her medical record as well as to the Department of State Health Services how consent was given, including whether it was through a parent or through permission from the court.

Murphy said that patient identity would be protected.

“By documenting how minors obtained their abortions, lawmakers and health care providers will have better data for use in evaluating state programs and crafting policy,” he said.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, pushed Murphy further on how the data would be used, pointing out that major physician groups like the Texas Medical Association and the Texas chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had concerns with the bill. The latter group said in their letter that the bill “creates an intrusion in the patient-physician relationship by requiring the reporting of sensitive and personal medical information.”

The committee did not vote on the bills Wednesday.

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