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Texas abortion law stirs up controversy

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Planned Parenthood is one of many opponents to the recent Texas abortion law. This clinic is located at 9100 N. Central Expressway. Photo credit: Lauren Aguirre

With the passage of the Texas abortion law (SB 2) in July, Texas has become a battleground for the abortion debate across the country.

SB 2 placed restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas. The law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

These provisions, pro-abortion rights activists say, restrict women’s health care choices. SB 2 provisions in conjunction with lower state funding for family planning programs are forcing clinics to close. A majority of patients go to these clinics for primary or preventative health care. Clinic closures present a problem for patients in rural areas, where there may only be one clinic available locally.

“I’m not surprised that Texas would do something like this,” SMU junior Angela Uno said. “This just supports the stereotype of Texas not being good with reproductive rights.”

However, conservatives argue that the provisions exist to protect women’s health.

“It’s a great step to make sure that women will be taken care of the way that they deserve,” Julie Martin, Mustangs for Life president, said.

Tom Mayo, an associate professor at the SMU Dedman School of Law, believes the law creates more regulations.

The law requires doctors to have admitting privileges at hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. This requirement was added to ensure that a patient could be easily admitted to a hospital if a complication occurred.

“That turns out to be a legislative mistake,” said Mayo, who specializes in medical law.

If a patient required hospital care, she could be delivered to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital, Mayo said. No one at the clinic would need admitting privileges. This requirement is harder to satisfy and serves as nothing more than one more regulation.

“The Texas legislature seems to be all about making it harder on women,” Mayo said.

Hailey Dunn, president of SMU College Republicans, supports this provision.

“It’s important for doctors to have admitting privileges because they can stay with their patient should she need to be admitted to a hospital,” Dunn said.

Because of the process to obtain admitting privileges, many clinics in Texas have stopped providing abortion services as many as 12 have closed their doors. Funding cuts to public family planning services in Texas have also contributed to these closures.

In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut two-thirds of the Department of State Health Services Family Planning program in an effort to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics for providing abortion. This funding cut prevented about 140,000 women from receiving health care in 2013.

Alexandra Day, former campus outreach intern for Planned Parenthood, believes the funding cut was unnecessary. Only private funding pays for abortion services, not public money, Day said.

“Many people think Planned Parenthood only provides abortion and that’s just not true,” Day said. “Over 90 percent of their services are primary and preventative health care.”

According to Planned Parenthood’s 2012-2013 Annual Report, only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s 2012 services were abortions. Forty-one percent of services were STD testing and treatment, 34 percent were providing contraception and 10 percent were cancer screenings and prevention.

“Many people are without care and health benefits,” Danielle Palomo, SMU Women’s Interest Network president, said. People who live in rural areas may have to drive long distances to get to an open clinic, Palomo said.

Another hotly debated provision of the law is the ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The basis for this provision, as stated in the law, is that “medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization.”

“It’s a beautiful step that we’re protecting children after 20 weeks gestation, when there’s science beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can feel pain,” Martin said.

The developmental stage of fetal pain perception is still being debated in the scientific community, and evidence of this development is limited. While some scientific studies support the assertion that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, others reveal that that ability to feel pain begins later in development. According to a study in the “Journal of the American Medical Association,” “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain…indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.” This would put the development of fetal pain perception at 24 weeks, instead of 20.

Day believes the 20-week abortion ban is unnecessary.

“The amount of abortions that actually occur after 20 weeks is incredibly small,” Day said. “The problem with the law is [politicians] are legislating under the assumption that those abortions are a matter of choice, when in reality they are often due to maternal health concerns.”

The law does allow abortions after 20 weeks if it is needed to prevent the mother’s death or a “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” However, the law also clearly states that this allowance does not include cases in which the mother’s psychological condition is a concern.

“It’s so clear especially as science develops that [a fetus] is its own person,” Martin said. “It’s a unique human being that will never be repeated again and I believe that…it deserves our dignity and our respect.”

“The decision [to have an abortion] should always be left between a woman and her doctor,” Day said. “A bunch of politicians simply cannot understand all of the factors that go into such a personal health decision.”

Lauren Aguirre is a sophomore majoring in Journalism and Political Science. She can be contacted at lcaguirre@smu.edu or tweeted at @laurencaguirre.

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