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Perry’s “Fetal Pain” Bill Probably Wouldn’t Prevent Fetal Pain, Would Close Abortion Clinics

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There’s always womb for Rick Perry.

On Tuesday, he alighted at The Source For Women, a crisis pregnancy center in Houston whose opening ribbon he cut in September, to announce his support for prospective legislation called Bean the “Preborn Pain Act,” aka a fetal pain bill. (The name comes from the belief, popular among opponents of abortion access, that 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain. A 2005 research review by the Journal of the American Medical Association says that isn’t true.) The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks even for victims of rape or incest, although, magnanimously, would allow the procedure save a woman’s life.

But only about one half of one percent of abortions in Texas take place after 20 weeks. And according to NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, most of those few are medical emergencies, so the new rule wouldn’t apply to them.

That doesn’t mean the “fetal pain” bill won’t make abortions harder to get.

Part of the proposed bill, lightly touched on in Perry’s presentation, is a requirement that abortion clinics conform to “surgical operating” room standards. Because the bill itself is preborn, it’s hard to say what exactly that will mean, but Heather Busby, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice TX, has a guess.

“Back in 2004,” Busby says, “the Legislature passed a bill that required any abortion after 16 weeks to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center (ASC). It sounds like what they’re referring to is making all clinics ASCs.”

An ASC has structural requirements like hallways wide enough for stretchers. “There was no medical reason for those requirements,” Busby said. “It was just a way to make clinics have to rebuild or remodel or move.“

In 2004, no Texas clinics met those standards. Now the only ASCs are in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, and their costs of service are up to three times what they were before remodeling. “The effect is felt directly by the women,” Busby says.

If the “Preborn Pain Act” passes and all abortion clinics must be ASCs, “clinics are going to close and abortion costs will be higher.”

Sounds good to Perry. His goal, he told The Source for Women, “is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past.”

Emily DePrang joined The Texas Observer in 2011 as a staff writer covering criminal justice and public health. Before that, she was nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. Before that, she was a waitress. She's also appeared in The Atlantic, Salon.com, and VICE. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and has won some things, including the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (2012), the National Health Journalism Fellowship from USC Annenberg (2013), and a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Reporting (2014). She still sometimes thinks about waitressing.