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Surprising Testimony in Senate Health & Human Services Committee

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On Wednesday, February 15, the Texas Senate Health and Human Services committee held hearings on three pieces of abortion-related legislation. The hearing opened with committee chairman Charles Schwertner’s SB 8. His legislation would make it illegal to conduct an abortion for the purpose of studying the fetus. Democrat Kirk Watson spoke in opposition, questioning the author about a situation in which a child conceived in rape and abortion was conducted to test DNA for an investigation. An invited witness speaking in favor of the legislation from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops stated, “There is no cure that has been found from research done on fetal tissue.”

Senator Charles Perry presented SB 415 which bans aborting a still-living baby through the process of dismemberment. Invited witnesses testified that there are alternative methods where the child is deceased before being dismembered. Sen. Kirk Watson expressed opposition to the legislation suggesting that it would prevent certain miscarriage procedures. However, Sen. Perry explained that the legislation simply requires that the baby be deceased before any such procedure be performed.

Sen. Don Huffines’ SB 258 requires that an unborn child who has died in a medical facility, either through miscarriage or abortion, must receive a respectful disposition. His legislation would allow for burial, cremation, or arrangements of the mother’s choosing. Under current procedures, these remains are ground up and sent to the sewage system or a landfill. Invited witnesses included the leader of a Catholic charity that currently provides free burial services for the remains of a miscarriage or abortion. She further testified that under Sen. Huffines’ bill, this charity would be willing to take on the additional demand.

Later in the day, the senate committee began hearing testimony from the public on all three of these bills. Approximately 100 people showed up to testify; some ‘for’, some ‘against’, and some simply ‘on’ the legislation. Prior to the period of witness testimony, a group of activists from Pro Choice Texas , also known as NARAL, all showed up in coordinating orange shirts, both watching the proceedings from the gallery and lining up on the floor to testify. Their major opposition to the legislation was that it would restrict abortions, enhance guilt for those wishing to receive abortions, and that, in general, the legislation gave too much government control over a woman’s body. Several witnesses accused committee members of submitting this legislation strictly for the purpose of political donations and re-election.

On the other end of the spectrum, several citizens came and testified in opposition to all three bills because they found the proposed measures inadequate in the fight to completely prohibit abortions. Members of this group commented that, although they appreciate the intent of the legislation, it was the responsibility of the Senate to completely ban abortions, not just regulate how abortions should be done, or regulate what should be done to the unborn child after the abortion. On the House side, Rep. Tony Tinderholt has filed HB 948, the “Abolition of Abortion” bill. No such bill has been filed in the Senate.

In the middle of this discussion, two major pro-life groups testified, but took very different positions on the bills before the committee. John Seago from Texas Right to Life was one of the first individuals to testify before the committee. He, speaking on behalf of Texas Right to Life, spoke in favor of SB 415 to ban dismemberment abortions stating that “it is the next step in educating the public about the violent nature of abortion.” Also with Texas Right to Life, Emily Cook spoke to the constitutionality of the legislation, citing an Amicus Brief from an experienced constitutional attorney supporting a dismemberment ban and referencing Justice Kennedy’s opinion that it is the right of the state to “prohibit a barbaric procedure” when referring to partial-birth abortion bans.

On behalf of Texas Alliance for Life, executive director Joe Pojman testified for senate bills 8 and 258, but was against Sen. Perry’s dismemberment ban legislation. In the invited testimony period comprised largely of expert witnesses, Mr. Pojman spoke on Sen. Huffines’ bill requiring the proper disposition of fetal remains, explaining it was necessary for the respectful treatment of deceased babies. However, when he came back to testify and discussed SB 415, he strictly stated that neither he nor Texas Alliance for Life could support a dismemberment ban as, in effect, it would prohibit abortions. In addition to this statement, he stated that “we must be wise” and firmly asserted that the dismemberment ban, along with full abortion-repeal, would never withstand a court challenge. This resulted in back-and-forth discussion with the bill’s author, Sen. Perry, who stated that the viability of a court challenge was not the “barometer” by which the body decided whether or not to pass legislation.

Witness testimony concluded at approximately 4 pm and all three bills were left pending in committee until the committee can reconvene and vote on the legislation.

Part one of the archived committee meeting can be viewed here. SB415 discussion starts at 54:26

Part two of the archived committee meeting can be viewed here. The exchange between Senator Perry and Joe Pojman of Texas Alliance for Life starts at 24:48.

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