The Texas House tentatively approved a bill Tuesday that would require doctors to treat babies born alive after a failed abortion attempt.
The measure — which addresses a rare circumstance — would need a final approval from the House before it could go to the Senate, which has already approved a similar bill.
Under House Bill 16, authored by Plano Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach, doctors who “fail to provide the appropriate medical treatment” would be charged with a third-degree felony and have to pay a fine of at least $100,000. The measure gives teeth to an already existing statute — including Texas Family Code and federal law — that grants legal protections to children born after an abortion attempt.
The “born alive” bill is part of a national Republican response to abortion advocates’ efforts to roll back regulations on late-term abortions in states like New York and Virginia. Nine states have proposed versions of the “born alive” bills this year, and the measure has passed the North Carolina House and both chambers of the Minnesota legislature, according to Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the abortion rights thinktank the Guttmacher Institute.
“At the heart of the bill, the ‘Texas Born Alive Protection Act’ — it is designed to strengthen the protections to those babies who survive abortions,” Leach said, surrounded by a huddle of the bill’s dozens of co-authors. “Join me in supporting House Bill 16, showing the rest of the country — states like Virginia, New York and Washington, D.C. — that we’re going to continue to stand for life in this state,” he said.
The measure passed 93 to 1. Fifty members were present but didn’t vote at the behest of state Rep. Donna Howard, who gave a tearful speech that incited applause from the floor.
“The aim of HB 16 is clear: further stigmatize abortion, misinform the public, intimidate physicians, and interfere with a woman’s ability to seek medical care,” said Howard, the only lawmaker who debated the bill. “To debate this bill...would legitimize its false information. We refuse to waste limited time we have here by entertaining malicious and purely political attacks against women and doctors.”
The Senate version authored by Brenham Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst passed on a vote of 21-10 last week, with Democratic state Sens. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo bucking their party to support the measure.
The House and Senate versions differ in how they define the appropriate standard of care. HB 16 would require the physician to ensure that the infant be immediately transferred and admitted to a hospital, but Senate Bill 23 makes no such stipulation.
The House bill, unlike its Senate counterpart, would also give the infant’s parents grounds to sue the abortion provider.
Bill authors in both chambers are still determining whether they will work to move the House or Senate version forward, Leach said.
During the bill’s hearing, Leach said that the measure is “not about access to abortion.”
However, opponents say it would deter doctors from performing abortions. Critics also say the measure is a solution in search of a problem — that it’s unnecessary because protections already exist and the situation is rare.
Texas reported zero live births resulting from an abortion between 2013 and 2016, all the years that DSHS has collected the data.
The U.S. Senate rejected a national version of the bill earlier this year, which prompted the state-level response in Texas.
“Where other states are passing legislations protecting abortionists… and where Washington D.C. can’t even bring the bill up for a vote, Texas will act,” Leach said during the bill’s hearing.
‘Ban the box’
The Texas Senate on Tuesday preliminarily approved the last two bills in a package of splintered legislation aimed at limiting the ability of cities to regulate private companies’ employment policies.
The bills from state Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican, would preempt local rules that disallow employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history and bar cities from enacting rules on how businesses schedule their employees’ shifts.
In 2016, Austin passed an ordinance — known as “ban the box” — preventing private employers with 15 or more workers from asking potential job candidates’ criminal history before extending a conditional job offer. Officials said the goals were to reduce unemployment and lower the chances that people with criminal histories would reoffend. But more recently, some have slammed the city’s proposal for lacking teeth since it wasn’t being enforced.
If passed, Creighton’s bill would bar local governments from implementing such laws in the first place.
“I don’t dispute that many people are deserving of a second chance, but I do want private employers to make that decision and not the government,” Creighton told other senators. “It’s a lose-lose for both the applicant and the employer to go through a lengthy process just to learn that a felony may disqualify the applicant.”
Senate Bill 2488’s initial passage came in a party-line vote of 19-12, with only Republicans in support. It will need to get final approval from the Senate before it can head to the House.
According to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that works to strengthen protections for low-income or unemployed workers, 34 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted “ban the box” ordinances. Some business owners and Republicans, however, have said that such laws potentially make an employer liable to their workers’ actions — should they go on to commit a crime.
When laying out his measure in early April in front of the Senate State Affairs Committee, Creighton said SB 2488 would ensure “business owners know exactly who is working in and among their employees.”
“If someone’s been convicted of embezzlement or burglary, wouldn’t you want to know that as soon as possible before you let them operate a cash register or a safe or a vault?” he said.
But State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said he worried that if Creighton’s bill passed it might be hard for Texans with criminal records to get jobs.
“You believe that people who have paid their debts to society should have an opportunity to get back into society and be a functional citizen, don’t you?” West asked. “You realize that in order to be able to do that, you have to be able to get a job in order to pay child support, take care of your family and other obligations.
“You’re saying by this particular bill, they should be pre-judged during the interview process if they have a criminal record and not be judged based on the person’s ability to be able to do the job.”
Tuesday’s bills were approved after a broader piece of legislation with similar measures stalled following LGBTQ groups’ criticism that Creighton stripped out a provision that explicitly protected non-discrimination ordinances.
One of the most notable goals of that original bill, Senate Bill 15, was to prevent cities from mandating that employers offer paid sick leave to their staffs. The Senate last week passed such a measure after it was split off into separate legislation.
SB 15’s companion in the House by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, has yet to receive a committee hearing, though the language protecting local non-discrimination ordinances is still intact.
The upper chamber Tuesday approved in a preliminary vote a second measure by Creighton, Senate Bill 2486, that would prohibit cities from regulating how companies schedule employees. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, successfully amended the bill so that cities also could not regulate overtime compensation.