Though Texas pro-life leaders are generally confident that the pro-life omnibus bill currently before the state legislature will pass, some worry that Democrats and moderate Republicans in the state house will seek to water down the bill when it goes to the lower chamber tomorrow.
When the chamber starts deliberation on the omnibus bill at 10 a.m., pro-life operatives will be watching for a few things. First, the legislation makes no exception for rape or incest in its general ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Democrats or moderate Republicans could propose an amendment that would make an exception for such cases after that point in the pregnancy.
Pro-lifers also worry that the bill’s criminal penalties could be removed. Currently, the bill will make it a Class A misdemeaner to perform an abortion without following the prescriptions set in the bill. That could result in thousands of dollars in fines and years in prison for violators, and some pro-life leaders suspect that moderate Republicans could try to amend the legislation to lessen those criminal penalties.
One operative also told me that there’s concern Democrats could try to change the legislation to allow abortion of fetuses who have Down syndrome. The current language of the legislation only allows abortions after 20 weeks if the fetus has abnormalities incompatible with life outside of the womb.
Democrats may also add language allowing abortions after 20 weeks for the mental health of the mother. And if Democrats vote lockstep and 20 to 30 moderate Republicans join with them, any of those amendments could be added to the bill, making it a good deal weaker.
On the other hand, some pro-life members want to make the bill more restrictive of abortion. Tomorrow, there could be amendments banning sex-selective abortions and banning coercing women into having abortions, as well as efforts to keep abortions from being paid for through Obamacare exchanges. It’s unlikely the legislature will want to take up pro-life bills next session, so many feel that this bill should be as robust as possible. Texas has never passed an omnibus pro-life bill, and many see this as a historic opportunity to limit abortion.
“When the [state] house voted on it last time, the strategy was not to talk,” says state representative Jonathan Stickland of the lower legislature’s first round of debate over the bill, last week. “This time, we’re gonna unleash on the Left. We’ve got time to debate, and we’re going to make our point and let be known exactly how we feel.”
Going forward, lieutenant governor David Dewhurst will draw significant attention. After Democrat state senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster defeated the bill in a special senate session last week, state senator Dan Patrick announced he will challenge Dewhurst for the lieutenant governorship. That step is especially aggressive given that the two are Republican colleagues in the state senate and the special session hasn’t even wrapped.
I spoke with Dewhurst today, and he told me that if the state house moves the bill, they hope to take it up on the floor of the state senate early next week.