Texas House approves bill penalizing
doctors who fail to care for infants born
I hope no one reading this is easily deceived, contrary to what Democratic Rep. Donna Howard (who has a background as a nurse) says here, far too many members of the medical community takes it upon themselves to pick and choose who will live and who will die, and quiet obviously the oath these people once took has faded into a Hypocrite’s Oath.
AUSTIN, TX – After a tense moment, Texas House members gave preliminary approval to legislation imposing a six-figure fine and possible prison time on any physician who fails to care for an infant born alive after an abortion.
The bill, from Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, prevailed Tuesday evening after Austin Democratic Rep. Donna Howard stressed that there’s no record of post-abortion births in Texas and infanticide is already illegal.
Members divided mostly along party lines, by 93-1, to advance the “Born Alive” act, which also would impose prison time in cases of gross negligence.
But 12 Democrats, including Dallas Rep. John Turner and others mostly from Catholic-rich South Texas, joined all but two Republicans in voting for the measure. GOP Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, filling in at the time for House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, was marked “PC,” presiding chair. Bonnen didn’t vote, as is common practice by a speaker.
Houston Democrat Harold Dutton cast the “no” vote while 50 Democrats voted “present, not voting” at the urging of Howard, who criticized the “blatantly false, inflammatory and dangerous” proposal as a political box to be checked on legislative scorecards kept by influential GOP groups. They included Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who was earlier part of a brief March boycott of the Leach-led committee hearing on the proposal.
Turner said after the vote that he didn’t view the bill as being about reproductive rights. It “addresses an extremely rare circumstance,” he said. Turner said while running for office last fall that he would not vote for any legislation that would further restrict abortion access.
Texas is one of 26 states with laws requiring physicians to provide medical care and treatment to born-alive infants at any stage of development, according to Americans United for Life. But Leach told colleagues his measure adds a vital enforcement element.
Leach said enforcement “teeth” still are needed.
“It’s a good strong law,” he said. “But I don’t believe that it goes far enough.”
Leach said House members had an opportunity to unite across party lines “and as much as the issue of abortion has historically divided this country, this state and even this body at times, to me there should be no debate on this issue.”
Howard, the sole Democrat to engage with Leach before the vote, responded that Leach’s proposal didn’t merit debate.
She said the proposal is likely to further stigmatize women’s health decisions while imposing more trauma for families faced with the tragedy of a fetus with severe abnormalities.
“To debate this bill or to try to amend it would legitimize its false narrative,” Howard said. “The misinformation perpetuated by this bill is dangerous and is the exact type of rhetoric that leads to threats against providers. We refuse to waste the limited time that we have here to take care of the people’s business by entertaining malicious and purely political attacks against women and doctor.”
Noting her background as a nurse, Howard told the House: “I am insulted. I am insulted by the implication that I or any other nurse or doctor … would not do any and every thing in our power to provide care to any medically stressed human being.” She added that no legislator, “not one,” supports infanticide.
Leach said he wouldn’t try to refute Howard’s individual critiques.
“This legislation is about protecting innocent life, a baby who is born alive,” he said before calling for the vote.
Passage of a “Born Alive” proposal into law — among three abortion-related priorities declared by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — seems likely under GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. A Senate-approved version differs only in its penalties.
Nationally, anti-abortion advocates have noted mild momentum for such measures. Bills have gained ground but not yet passed into law this year in Missouri, Montana and North Carolina partly in reaction to events in New York and Virginia–states mentioned by Leach–and a stymied Republican move in Congress.
Well before Tuesday’s vote, nearly every one of the House’s 83 Republicans had signed on to Leach’s legislation. Sitting out: Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland, the former House speaker, who said he rarely co-sponsors bills, and Davis, who has advocated for abortion rights. Speaker Bonnen also wasn’t a co-sponsor though his brother, Friendswood Rep. Greg Bonnen, was among four joint authors.
Under the House plan, the state attorney general could sue a physician who fails to treat a live infant to recover a fine of at least $100,000. Leach’s bill also permits a third-degree felony charge, potentially leading to imprisonment for two years to 10 years, if a doctor shows “gross negligence.” The Senate-passed “Born Alive” measure calls for the same fine and a third-degree felony charge without requiring a determination of gross negligence. Neither proposal would penalize patients.
No Texas infants born alive?
According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, there were no reports of infants born alive in the state after abortion procedures from 2013 through 2016, the latest year of available figures. Over the four years, more than 219,000 abortions were provided in the state, the agency says.
However, government-collected figures suggest that 25 babies were born alive during abortion procedures in 2017 in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.
Established Texas laws
Lawmakers in 1979 revised state law to give a child born alive after an abortion or premature birth the rights of a child born after a normal gestation. Later, the 1995 Legislature, under Gov. George W. Bush’s signature, gave rights to any person born alive. As president, Bush in 2002 signed into law a measure similarly stating: “A living human child born alive after an abortion or premature birth is entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as are granted by the laws of this state to any other child born alive after the normal gestation period.”
Before the House action, Drucilla Tigner, a strategist for the Texas ACLU, told a House panel chaired by Leach that his “Born Alive” measure isn’t needed because state and federal laws already outlaw murder, protecting people regardless of age. Lawmakers passing the legislation, Tigner said in an email, “would at best be redundant and at worst it will distort public perception of safe, legal abortion care and unfairly target those who provide it in order to restrict access.”
Among objectors, Austin physician Karen Swenson, speaking on behalf of the Texas chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in written testimony that the idea “that physicians deliver, and then kill or neglect treating, a viable fetus is unfounded and dangerous misinformation.”
Leach and other committee members also heard testimony by three women who each said she was born after an abortion procedure — one of whom said she was born during the botched abortion. Leach introduced one of them to House members. Claire Culwell of Pflugerville was in the House gallery.
A national spark
In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed into law a proposal described by abortion rights advocates as aligning state law with what federal courts have permitted since the Supreme Court legalized a woman’s right to choose an abortion in 1973. The revised law permits an abortion at any stage of pregnancy if there is an absence of fetal viability. Previously, women in New York could only get abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy if their lives were threatened, the fact-checking PolitiFact project reported.
In Virginia, legislators took testimony on a proposal to remove abortion-related restrictions, including a requirement that three physicians sign off on an abortion in the third trimester. Elizabeth Nash of the non-partisan Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, said in an email that the Virginia bill would newly have enabled a single physician to determine an abortion is necessary to protect the woman’s life or if there’s a severe health condition.
Nash wrote: “The New York bill was really about changing their law to match up with U.S. Supreme Court decisions. And the Virginia law was about getting care to patients in pretty serious situations a little faster since you wouldn’t have to track down two other physicians. The political firestorm around these efforts is a far cry from the actual measures, and it’s really about manufacturing outrage over abortion generally,” Nash commented.
Meantime, conservatives in the U.S. Senate in February tried to pass legislation threatening prison for doctors failing to save infants born alive after abortion procedures. Democrats blocked the measure, the Associated Press then reported.