Texas House members approved a bill late Friday night that would bar local governments from contracting with abortion providers and could keep Austin from supporting a low-income women's health clinic.
The bill heads back to the state Senate for final approval of an amendment, and then could go to Gov. Greg Abbott for signing. It passed the House 81-65, with Republican Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats.
The bill would prohibit local government entities from making "taxpayer resource" transactions with abortion providers or their affiliates. Those transactions, the bill says, would include the sale, purchase, lease or donation of money, goods, services or property.
The legislation ranks among three abortion-related bills that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick listed in his 30 legislative session priorities in March. The other bills remain in motion with the session's May 27 end in sight. One would subject a physician who fails to treat an infant born alive after an abortion to a six-figure fine and possible imprisonment. The other would tighten the requirement that women seeking abortions be given information prepared by the state.
The debate comes at a time that state Legislatures across the South are pursuing bills to make it harder for women to get abortions, and on the heels of the Alabama governor signing into law a bill that virtually outlaws abortions.
Lucas Republican Rep. Candy Noble, the House's lead author of the bill, urged colleagues to see the bill as a taxpayer protection act.
"Abortion is not health care," Noble said, "but instead it's the intentional destruction of innocent human life."
Planned Parenthood Texas Votes has pleaded with legislators not to advance SB 22, which could end the $1-a-year lease an East Austin women's health clinic has at a city government-owned building.
The bill would also ban "pop up" clinics on community college campuses that provide access to birth control and health screenings; preventive health care appointments for women, such as cervical cancer screenings offered through county websites and initiatives; and distributions of free condoms by any city or county health department.
The debate, which stretched on for more than seven hours, spiraled into a fight pitting many of the chambers' Democratic women against the majority-Republican body. Democrats unsuccessfully offered several amendments throughout the night to weaken the bill's impact.
Some of the female lawmakers offered stories about how they relied on Planned Parenthood for health care services earlier in their lives.
Democratic state Rep. Ana Maria Ramos of Richardson offered emotional testimony admitting that she'd had a baby at the age of 15 and had previously turned to Planned Parenthood for assistance.
"Access to Planned Parenthood gave me the opportunity to fight for the little girl on my hands," she said.
She called the bill an "attack" on women's health care and said poor women, who lack health insurance, would die without access to health services.
Democratic Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston said the consequence of attacking organizations like Planned Parenthood for abortion is that it denies women access to contraception.
"It will actually have the effect of driving up the abortion rate. If Texas wants to prevent abortions, it needs to prevent unwanted pregnancies," she said. "To cut off the premier provider, it's a deliberate disregard for women's health."
Democrat Eddie Rodriguez, addressing Noble from the mic at the rear of the chamber, asked her if the East Austin clinic in his district was the target of the bill.
She replied: "Are you wanting me to say that this is the only issue? Absolutely not."
Rodriguez then asked Noble if the bill would end events educating residents of El Paso, Dallas and Fort Worth about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Noble replied that she hadn't found all of the described examples but that state-supported clinics unaffiliated with abortion providers already offer health services.
Davis, who supports abortion rights, made a run at killing the legislation early in the afternoon with an amendment. In what proved a test vote, members heeded Noble by tabling Davis' move with a 78-65 vote — Davis being the only Republican to side with Democrats and Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City the lone Democrat to team with Republicans. Guillen left before the final vote.
(Staff Writer James Barragan contributed to this report.)