H.R. 36 Endangers the Lives and Health of Women

Today the House passed H.R. 36. The bill would impose a nationwide ban on abortion at 20 weeks even in the event that a pregnancy could pose serious harm to a woman’s health. I voted against this bill because I believe it would endanger the lives and health of women in Texas — a state that already struggles to provide access to reproductive health care for women and has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. The legislation is also a clear attempt to erode the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s constitutional protection to a safe and legal abortion. More Americans than ever before, 69%, now oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.

It’s important to know that only 1.3% of abortions occur after 20 weeks. When they are needed at this point of a pregnancy, it’s often because of extraordinarily complex circumstances that lead families to work with their doctors to make the best decision for their particular situation. Severe fetal anomalies and serious risks to the woman’s health including pulmonary hypertension, heart conditions, kidney disease, and certain cancers can lead to making this difficult choice. Many of these medical reasons are unable to even be properly diagnosed until after 20 weeks.

For example, a constituent of mine named Jeni was elated to go in for her 21 week check-up. She and her husband left stunned after their OBGYN told them that Jeni’s fetus had multiple severe defects. There was no way that her pregnancy would end in a live, healthy baby. She said that it would have been too hard for her to carry to term, and it seemed far worse to make the baby suffer too when he would ultimately not survive. We’ve also heard from survivors of sexual assault in Texas who were too fearful and ashamed to speak up after they were raped. They ultimately decided to end the pregnancy at 21 and 22 weeks. While the bill provides an exemption for rape and incest, it shamefully forces the victim to present documentation that proves it. Additionally, because of our state’s restrictive laws, women often have to wait weeks before being scheduled for an abortion or travel to a neighboring state all together. This can sometimes push women over the 20 week mark.

In 2013, our state considered a similar ban on abortions after 20 weeks among several other restrictions. During the public testimony, 2,181 Texans registered in opposition of the bill (over 60% of those who registered their opinion overall). They were joined by more than 5,000 abortion rights supporters who converged on the state capitol to oppose the ban. Story after story reminded us why some women and families make the difficult decision to end their pregnancy after 20 weeks. Extenuating circumstances are exactly why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Women’s Association, and Physicians for Reproductive Health each opposed the Texas ban in 2013. These experts also opposed H.R. 36 and today, I voted to do so too.