CAPITOL OFFENSES Notify the Democrats BY MICHAEL KING Under the latest refinement in Texas law, a ‘fetus” is now defined as “an individual human organism from fertilization until birth.” We owe that canny metaphysical precision to the longhaired Republican philosopher from Louisiana Tech via far Southwest Houston, Talmadge Heflin, who attached it as an amendment to the “parental notification” bill Senate Bill 30 which passed the House May 21, on its way to the Governor’s desk and presidential campaign. The bill was one of Governor Bush ‘s legislative priorities, but the particular shape it assumed on the floor was, to a great extent, a gift of the House Democrats. Texas thereby became one of forty-one states to mandate some form of “parental involvement” in a minor girl’ s decision to have an abortion. Nationally, the legal restrictions range from simple notice to one or both parents’ consent, and allow for various forms of permissible parental “bypass.” S.B. 30, sponsored by Plano Republican Florence Shapiro and carried in the House by Temple Republican Dianne Delisi, requires parental notice and allows only a judicial bypass. That is, a Texas woman seventeen or younger who becomes pregnant and wishes to arrange an abortion without informing her parents must apply for penission from a judge. The new law may well reduce the number of abortions at least legal, safe abortions. It will undoubtedly make it more difficult for a pregnant girl to find help outside :per immediate family, whether her parents are supportive, neglectful, or abusive. “In the real world in Texas,” said Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, who tried several parliamentary maneuvers in an attempt to kill the bill, “grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles play a really important role in the young girls’ lives, and to leave them out of the circle makes no sense.” One representative said simply, “I think it will put many more young pregnant girls at risk of serious harm.” It doesn’t stop there. Heflin’s pseudo-scientific amendment, interpreted literally, may have effectively outlawed the prescription to minors of ‘certain kinds of abortifacient contraception. And if a physician should perform an abortion for a woman he believes is of age but who is later discovered to be a minor, the doctor is subject to prosecution. Heflin’s amendment was unsurprising he or other anti-choice Republicans have been proposing language like it for several sessions but that he got the chance to bring it to the floor at all was a bitter turn for many Democrats. They say they believed they had an agreement with the anti-abortion Republicans to pass a parental notification bill that would also allow other relatives \(grandparents, that the bill would not be burdened with additional anti-choice amendments on the House floor. Instead, Bush and the Republicans including Arlene Wohlgemuth, who had failed spectacularly to carry a similar bill last session were handed a major victory, and the Dems got little or nothing in return. And young women in Texas, particularly those living in difficult or untraditional family circumstances, will have to endure the consequences. A Harold Dutton Jana Birchum The Texas law is part of a national trend, most recently joined by New Jersey, whose Governor Christine Whitman just signed her own parental notification law. According to William Lutz of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, in the absence of popular support for an outright ban on abortions, antichoice groups have turned to incremental strategies: laws mandating parental involvement, “informed consent,” waiting periods, physician-only procedures, or banning public funding. “All are designed to reduce access to abortion, and they succeed and they occasionally produce catastrophic results, like young girls dying from illegal abortions.” I ” t was an absolute bloodbath,” said Debra Danburg a few days after the House vote. “I was angered by the bill itself, but the worst part was the corruption of the process.” The Houston Democrat was one of only thirty members who held out and voted against S.B. 30, following the failure of several moderating amend 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 11, 1999
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