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Perry Lends Support to Fetal Pain Bill

Michael Stravato, Texas Tribune

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday indicated he would support a prospective "fetal pain" bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Speaking at the Source for Women, a pregnancy crisis center in Houston, he said his goal "is to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past." 

The measure is being championed by Texas Right to Life, a state-based anti-abortion group, but a bill has not yet been filed. The group's director, Elizabeth Graham, said the measure her organization backs would include exceptions for women whose lives are in danger, but not for victims of rape or incest. "Those decisions for children who are conceived in rape or in incest will need to be made prior to the 20-week mark," she said.

Opponents say such legislation erodes women's legal access to abortion, and that a similar fetal pain law in Arizona is currently being reviewed by a federal appeals court.

“Every pregnancy is different. No politician can possibly decide what is best for a woman and her family in every circumstance,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement. “It is especially outrageous to take options away from women who could be in tragic situations."

If a fetal pain bill passes during the 83rd legislative session, which begins in January, Texas would become the 10th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Although some scientists have reported that fetuses have sufficient nerve development to feel pain at 20 weeks of development, a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2005 found “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.”

The measure abortion opponents support would shorten a woman’s window for having an abortion in Texas by seven weeks; current Texas law prohibits abortions during the third trimester unless the health or life of the mother is at stake or if there are fetal abnormalities.

“How tragic to think that these babies suffer pain, a cruel and unnatural death, for simply being unwanted while they’re in the womb,” said incoming state Sen. Donna Campbell, a Tea Party Republican from New Braunfels who was also on hand in Houston to support the measure. “It’s time to strengthen our laws to be in line with what science tells us is possible.”

Perry said he also plans to support measures that would improve the quality standards of abortion facilities and ensure women who receive abortions have access to an emergency room if there are complications with the procedure.

"We also need to require any physician performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital," Perry said. "... From my perspective, this is about common sense, as any patient should have the expectation that the facilities being used are up to standards."

While the governor was giving his remarks on Tuesday, Planned Parenthood sent out a press release announcing another lawsuit against the state over the organization's exclusion from the new state-run Women's Health Program. Republican lawmakers banned Planned Parenthood from the previous Women's Health Program — a joint state-federal endeavor — to staunch the flow of taxpayer dollars to clinics affiliated with the provider. That move prompted the federal government to pull out of the program, which was funded with $9 from the federal government for every $1 the state supplied. The state plans to launch the Texas Women's Health Program with state money alone starting next month.

Abortion rights advocates say Texas lawmakers did enough damage in the 2011 session, by way of abortion sonogram legislation and cuts to state-subsidized family planning. They say a fetal pain bill would add insult to injury. 

“There is no denying that Gov. Perry and the state Legislature’s unprecedented and unrelenting assaults on women’s reproductive rights in 2011 are causing hardship for women in Texas every single day," Bebe Anderson, the director of the legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Becca Aaronson develops data interactives and reports for The Texas Tribune. After an internship in fall 2010, she was hired by the Tribune to help cover the 82nd legislative session. She previously interned at the Houston Chronicle. Becca is a native of Austin who graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., with a degree in cultural theory.
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