Published 12:38 pm Thursday, March 16, 2017

Providers would be banned from selling or donating tissue garnered from elective abortions under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday.   This issue arose in 2015 following a series of undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of tissue and altering of abortion procedure to better recover fetal organs, a clear violation of federal law, according to bill author and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner. “While these videos ultimately failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt any acts of criminal wrong-doing on the part of Planned Parenthood, they nonetheless succeeded in bringing national attention to the highly concerning issue with far reaching moral and bioethical implications”, he said. Schwertner’s bill, SB 8, would ban the sale at the state level, as well as placing additional restrictions on the disposition of fetal tissue.

Under SB 8, only tissue from medically-necessary abortions or miscarriages could be donated for research purposes, and then only to accredited research institutions. Because the sale of fetal tissue is banned only at a federal level, Schwertner says it only applies when that activity crosses state lines, leaving the issue up to federal officials to decide if and when to intervene. His bill would make it illegal in the state, empowering state officials to enforce the law. It also includes higher accounting standards for permissible costs for the transport, storage and other costs associated with fetal tissue research, in order to ensure no one profits from the trade.

The bill also bans partial-birth abortions in the state. Though outlawed by the federal government in 2003, Schwertner says the lack of state statute once again leaves enforcement up to the discretion of federal officials. The bill passed 24-6 and now heads to the House for consideration.

The Senate also tentatively passed another abortion-regulation bill Wednesday, one that would restrict a specific type of procedure. Dilation and evacuation abortions are most commonly performed in the second trimester of pregnancy, and a subset of that type uses a dismemberment procedure, according to author Senator Charles Perry. His bill would ban the procedure, which he calls the most appalling procedure still allowed in law. “[Senate Bill 415] ends the tortuous and inhumane practice of ending the life of an unborn child by dismembering him or her piece by piece, causing them to bleed to death in the womb,” he said. Perry said his bill would not ban second-trimester abortions and includes exceptions for medical emergencies. It must still face a final vote, likely early next week.

Also Wednesday, the Senate gave final approval to the bill regulating who can use which bathroom in public buildings. SB 6 by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst would require people to use the bathroom designated for use by the sex on their current birth certificates. Several members rose both in support and opposition to the measure. Those against raised concerns about economic impact of the law, the practice of overriding local ordinances and the impact it could have on the transgender community. “My concern is that Senate Bill 6 would have an unintended consequence of causing great harm to transgender men and women, boys and girls,” said Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini.  Supporters argued it protects women and children, answers an incidence of federal overreach, and creates a state-wide standard that avoids confusion and chaos at local levels. “The state must ensure that we have a fair and reasonable path forward so we do not have the kind of fight we had in Fort Worth in every school board meeting and every city hall across Texas,” said Senator Konni Burton, who represents the school district that sparked a state-wide controversy when they passed guidelines relating to transgender students last year. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 20 at 2 p.m.