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Texas abortion regulations, new and old, tout suspect science

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Ingrid Skop, an OB-GYN in San Antonio, said she's “seen fetuses withdraw their limbs when they encounter the amniotic needle.” Arizona pediatrician Paul Liu testified at the request of Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), who promoted fetal-pain science in a YouTube video Texas Right to Life put out last week. Liu said that doctors will often administer anesthesia to a fetus during operations that take place in pregnancy; proof, he says, that a fetus feels pain.

In the end, Laubenberg questioned whether JAMA was reliable, and told Farrar, “I will very gladly place my studies against your studies.” The list of studies Laubenberg provided the Current mirrors list taken from the Doctors on Fetal Pain website.

Under Laubenberg's bill, any doctor who induces, or attempts to induce, an abortion after 20 weeks would lose their license. For women seeking an abortion, at least two doctors would have to determine the age of the fetus, and the physician performing the abortion must provide “the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.”

Activists with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas say the law would be unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which ruled that abortions prior to fetal viability cannot be restricted — fetal viability is generally considered to be around 24 weeks, a full month after the bill's cut-off date.

The only exception written into Laubenberg's bill is if a woman is in danger of death or physical impairment if she doesn't get an abortion. As Farrar pointed out, there'd be no exception if a woman, later in her pregnancy, is diagnosed with cancer and presented with the choice to either risk her own health by rejecting cancer treatments, or risk the fetus's health by seeking treatment. “I think she should be the one who is able to make that choice,” Farrar said. “What actually constitutes acceptable risk? Does she have to die, or just risk death?”

Critics of the bill say abortions after 20 weeks are rare — of the 77,592 abortions performed in Texas  in 2010, just 420 were done after 20 weeks — and say those abortions are usually the result of some serious medical issue. Obstetrician Christina Sebestyen argued that many serious congenital anomalies aren't even detectable prior to 20 weeks, and that Laubenberg's bill would leave those women with no options. It's for that reason the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has opposed fetal pain bills filed across the country.

Carole Metcalf testified in front of lawmakers, saying she learned during an ultrasound at 20 weeks her daughter was terminally ill. “Knowing that your daughter is dying is heartbreaking,” she told lawmakers. Metcalf and her husband had already named the girl Amber when they decided to end the pregnancy. Had Laubenberg's bill been signed into law, Metcalf would not have had that choice.

In committee, Laubenberg insisted that carrying terminally ill children to term “brings closure for that woman.”

Lawmakers last week left the fetal-pain bill pending in committee.

*We originally reported Rep. Farrar was famous for waving a sonogram at lawmakers during floor debate in the 2011 session. It was her colleague, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. We regret the error.

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