This Abortion Bill is So Controversial That a Senator Just Smashed a Table During Its Debate

February 17th 2017

Mike Rothschild

A legislative debate in Texas over a controversial new abortion bill became so heated this week that a committee chairperson smashed a glass table to stop a NARAL intern's testimony.

The debate on Wednesday was over a trio of abortion restrictions, all written by men.

The three measures are Senate Bill 8, which criminalizes paid fetal tissue donations and a type of so-called “partial-birth” abortion, both of which are already illegal; Senate Bill 415, which would ban dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedures, calling them “dismemberment abortions," despite them being the safest and most common form of second-trimester abortion; and Senate Bill 258, which would require the burial of fetal tissue following abortions. 

SB415 is the most controversial bill of the three, as it bans what Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, called "the safest method of performing abortions later in pregnancy."

"Banning the safest methods of abortion does nothing to enhance patients’ health and safety;" Busby said in a statement to ATTN:. "In fact, banning abortion methods puts people’s lives at risk. There is no room for politicians in the exam room."

It was during the debate over SB415 that Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner hit a glass table so hard with his gavel that he shattered it, shutting down the testimony of NARAL Texas legislative intern Maggie Hennessy.

D&E is the most widely used clinical term for what anti-choice advocates erroneously term "partial-birth abortion." It's the use of a combination of suction and instruments to remove a more developed fetus. Proponents of SB415 include the legislative director for Texas Right to Life, which calls D&E "a violent act of injustice" that essentially kills a viable baby. 

D&E procedures are involved in about 10 percent of all abortions, and are almost always performed because of either medical necessity, delays in obtaining an abortion, a major change in financial or housing status, or severe domestic violence. For women who discover serious fetal abnormalities past the 20 week mark, it can be the only way to terminate a pregnancy without taking a non-viable fetus to term. 

What makes this particular bill even more problematic, critics say, is that it bans a medical procedure without referring to it by its proper term.

From a technical standpoint, there is no such thing as a "dismemberment abortion," and the bill never uses the term "dilation and extraction." If the bill passes, this lack of clinical terminology could cause a great deal of confusion when it comes to enforcement.

"I think the intention for using some of the terms that are used is to be inflammatory," Maryland OBGYN Diane Horvath-Cosper told the Dallas Morning News. "The medical reality is that we provide care to patients according to their needs, and we can't interpret these laws from a medical perspective because they don't use medical terms."

All three bills are being debated in the Texas legislature, and none are a safe bet to be passed.

As NARAL's Heather Busby put it, "Texans have shown again and again that they won’t stand for attacks on abortion access. It is long past time for anti-choice legislators to stop playing politics with health care and passing measures that put patients’ health and safety at risk and grossly intrude on the doctor-patient relationship.”