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The Texas Legislature’s special session ended Tuesday, with less than half of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities having passed both the House and the Senate and making it to the governor’s desk.
Despite the slow walk through the 20-item special session agenda, nine bills passed, including two restricting abortion access that have been signed into law.
Abbott on Tuesday signed a bill that prohibits all state-offered and Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance plans in Texas from including abortions in base coverage, instead requiring women to buy supplemental plans to cover the cost of an abortion. The measure, House Bill 214, does not include exceptions for instances of fetal abnormalities, rape, or incest, making Texas one of eight states to exclude these exemptions and limit coverage to instances of life endangerment, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Abortions for medical emergencies will still be covered.
The bill was co-authored by five Republican lawmakers. Proponents of HB 214 argue it allows people who do not agree with abortion to avoid subsidizing the procedure.
“As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Abbott said in a statement. “This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.”
Critics have dubbed the law “rape insurance,” as women will have to anticipate their need for an abortion ahead of time.
No one plans to have an abortion – and it is nearly impossible to predict when a woman may need one.
Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Texas Votes, told the Rivard Report that prior to this legislation being passed, insurance companies could decide what they would or would not cover at their discretion.
“For the State to then engage in dictating to an insurance company what they can and cannot cover is incredibly dangerous and troubling – especially for those families who need this,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez compared the idea that HB 214 eliminates those opposed to the procedure from having to pay for it to those who are opposed to vaccinations; in this vein, insurance companies would not be able to cover immunizations because those opposed to vaccines should not be obligated to pay for them due to personal objections.
“The State continues to attack women in Texas, and it’s falling on those women who are already having trouble accessing these procedures,” Gutierrez said.
Ashleigh, who asked to be identified by her first name only, was 27 when she became pregnant while being in a committed relationship with her now-husband. She had been taking birth control, but when she missed a period and experienced signs of being pregnant, she began looking into her options to terminate the pregnancy.
She wanted to obtain a medical abortion, which was not available in Texas at the time. A medical abortion is a type of non-surgical abortion in which pharmaceutical drugs are used to induce the abortion; the oral version is often referred to as the “abortion pill.”
Ashleigh found a clinic in Shreveport, La. that assisted with the procedure. She paid for the abortion out-of-pocket, plus the cost of travel and lodging.
“We just weren’t in a place in our life where we wanted to have any children,” Ashleigh said. “Having an abortion is every woman’s right, no matter who she is or where she comes from.”
She described her experience at the clinic as “surreal.”
One doctor at the clinic was “dumbfounded that [she] was there” and that the service wasn’t available in Texas, Ashleigh said.
Speaking to the challenges of obtaining an abortion, Ashleigh said the State is “trying to control [her] morals.”
“Having an abortion doesn’t make anyone a bad person,” she said. “I’m not procreating for something that I don’t want and I don’t want to take care of – that’s not fair to the kid.”
Regarding adoption, Ashleigh made grounds for her case citing the number of children currently waiting to be adopted within State’s child welfare system. She said that while no system is perfect, all should be free from the personal judgment of others.
Since then, medical abortions have become available in Texas, but new restrictions will limit who has access. Texas is not the first state in the country to block insurance companies from covering abortions. Twenty-five states have abortion coverage restrictions in their ACA plans, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and 11 states have laws that prohibit private insurance coverage of abortions: Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, and now Texas.
House Bill 13 was also approved, requiring physicians and healthcare facilities to report more details on abortions. Physicians are currently required to submit within 72 hours reports to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services that include detailed information such as the patient’s year of birth, race, marital status, state and county of residence, and the date of her last menstrual cycle. Physicians and facilities that fail to conform to the reporting stipulations would face a $500 fine for each day in violation.
The bill’s author, State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), said the measure would “provide a more accurate picture of the effects of abortion in Texas,” because he doesn’t believe that current data is accurate.
Abbot in a statement said, “the health and safety of women is of the utmost importance, and we must have the most accurate data available in order to create good policy.”
The Guttmacher Institute reports that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the United States, stating that “fewer than 0.05% of women obtaining abortions experience complications.”
Of those abortions, 5,296 took place in Bexar County.
Democratic lawmakers fought the measure, which reproductive rights groups say would violate the privacy rights of doctors, and is an attempt to intimidate abortion providers; their attempt to get the reporting timeframe extended from 72 hours was voted down, and ultimately the bill was approved on a 97-46 vote.
Gutierrez noted that physicians are not required to submit to the state paperwork and documentation for any medical procedure other than abortion.
“No one understands how this impacts abortion access,” Gutierrez said. “This is more targeted regulation of abortion providers [and] singling out specific providers,” making that information available on state databases, which Gutierrez believes jeopardizes the safety of both patient and doctor.
Texas has long been an epicenter of the abortion wars – Roe v. Wade was first filed in Dallas County in 1971. Since then, the climate around the topic has remained heated. Gutierrez told the Rivard Report that she doesn’t believe that the majority of State legislators wanted to vote on or see bills limiting abortion access.
Instead, Gutierrez said that “what happens is you have anti-choice extreme politicians who are lobbied by Texas Right to Life, and asked to file these bills, and then they become partisan.” It is likely that certain members are afraid of party leaders, Gutierrez said, which has a lot to do with their vote on these issues.
“Unfortunately Texas women continue to be the piñata of the State Legislature,” Gutierrez said. “Texas has very much created a public health crisis for women.”