Fetal pain among abortion-related issues for 2013

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by Mark Wiggins and John Fisher / KVUE.com

kens5.com

Posted on December 10, 2012 at 9:51 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 10 at 10:00 PM

AUSTIN -- When the gavel strikes in 2013, abortion will be back under the hammer.

The 82nd Texas Legislature in 2011 passed laws requiring a sonogram for women seeking an abortion, legislation which opponents emphasize includes transvaginal ultrasounds for women in the earliest stages of pregnancy. One of the targets for abortion opponents in 2013 will be a crack down on abortion-inducing drugs.

Filed by State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), SB 97 includes language that would require drugs such as misoprostol and methotrexate be prescribed by a physician and accompanied by a signed contract with a second physician pledging to treat any emergency arising from the administration of the drug.

"Can you imagine going to a facility and taking a pill that actually terminates a pregnancy, kills the unborn child, and the physician is not even present? We think that's egregious," said Joe Pojman, founder of Texas Alliance for Life.

After decreasing funding for Planned Parenthood and removing it from the Women's Health Program, abortion opponents plan to renew their aim. Planned Parenthood supporters point out nearly half of Women's Health Program patients receive treatment at a Planned Parenthood Clinic, predicting the remaining providers will be unable or unwilling to pick up the slack. Pojman believes the result of such legislation will be improved health care standards for women.

"We want to continue to see family planning money shifted away from Planned Parenthood and given to other organizations that are not part of the abortion industry and provide actually a much better standard of care for women," said Pojman. "For example, abortion is day surgery. It's a surgical procedure. Why shouldn't women go to a facility for an abortion that has the same safety standards as other ambulatory surgical centers? Right now that's not the case."

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) argues numbers from the state's Legislative Budget Board show the opposite, trending towards an increase in health care costs to the state.

"Their figures indicate that as a result of the cuts, Texas is going to see an additional 24,000 unplanned pregnancies at a cost to the state of over $100 million in state funds, and when you look at the federal match, closer to $300 million," said Howard. "So certainly as a nurse, I can say, from a public health policy standpoint, that is unacceptable."

Howard says bipartisan conversations regarding restoring at least some funding for women's health are already underway and hopes the actual numbers will present a fiscally conservative argument for doing so.

"There are some who are definitely willing to look at re-funding as much as they can," said Howard. "I think they're still concerned about Planned Parenthood, but they recognize that there were many other clinics and providers who were affected by these cuts and certainly at least want to see about what we can do to address the re-funding of that portion."

"This has been years in the making, this safety net that we have," said Howard. "Some of these clinics across the state have closed their doors. It's not going to be brought back up to speed overnight. It's going to require probably, unfortunately years to get things back in place."

The legislation with perhaps the most potential for controversy hasn't even been filed yet. The "Pre-born Pain Bill" would limit abortions to 20 weeks, the point at which supporters say the fetus can feel pain. The bill, promoted by Houston-based Texas Right to Life, would mirror similar legislation passed by the states of Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Texas Right to Life Director Elizabeth Graham calls the legislation "the next logical step" for abortion opponents following 2011's sonogram bill. The current science behind fetal pain remains complex, with supporters and opponents of fetal pain legislation often citing the same research sources. Graham points to the medical use of anesthesia in some fetal surgical procedures as positive evidence.

"The majority of Texans are pro-life," Graham said. "Since we have a general medical consensus that the developing pre-born child is capable of feeling pain, this is a good time to establish a state interest in protecting pre-born life who can feel pain."

Abortion rights advocates cite data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing just 1.3 percent of abortions are performed beyond 21 weeks' gestation, with 91.7 percent performed at less than 13 weeks.

"The abortions that do occur after 20 weeks are usually in the most dire of circumstances," said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. "Usually they're because of a tragic thing that has occurred in the pregnancy that endangers a woman's life or health or makes the fetus unable to be carried to term because of fetal anomalies."

Whether Texas needs more abortion legislation depends who you ask.

"This has been going on for how many years? Fifty years?" asked Austin resident Gene Cody. "Enough is enough. I'm sick of it."

"They're living human beings that are growing in our womb," said Leander resident Noelle Nelson. "They deserve as much protection as we're giving the whales and the dolphins, everybody else."

The debate will begin in January.

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