AUSTIN -- The battle over state abortion laws continues to smolder at the Texas Capitol and on the campaign trail.

Dozens of reproductive rights advocates gathered at the Texas Capitol Thursday

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AUSTIN -- The battle over state abortion laws continues to smolder at the Texas Capitol and on the campaign trail.

Dozens of reproductive rights advocates gathered at the Texas Capitol Thursday afternoon to again voice their displeasure with the Texas Legislature. Gathered just outside a hearing of the state Senate Health and Human Service Committee on women's health issues, elected leaders and activists took turns speaking against House Bill 2 as well as previous legislation targeting Planned Parenthood.

"The abortion legislation that we saw passed this past summer has only reduced women's access to care and reduced their options for treatments," said Austin OB/GYN Christina Sebestyen.

Filibustered by Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and ultimately sent to the governor by Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-TX), the sweeping restrictions on abortions and abortion providers passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature in 2013 continue to be campaign fodder on the road to the 2014 elections.

Running for governor, Davis suggested to a Dallas Morning News editorial board last week she could have supported a part of House Bill 2 banning abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy if it had included exceptions for rape and incest and gave more deference to mothers and their physicians. In an interview with KVUE's sister station KHOU the following day, Davis clarified her position.

"These are decisions that should be left not for a legislature to decide, but for a doctor and a woman who's making this tough decision to decide," said Davis. 

In addition to the 20-week ban, the law also includes significant changes in the regulation of abortion inducing drugs. The law requires abortion clinics to adhere to the same facility guidelines as ambulatory surgical centers and requires physicians performing abortions to obtain admitting privileges with a hospital within 30 miles of where abortions are performed.

All four Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor have voiced opposition to abortion rights as established by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. At a January debate hosted by Dallas/Fort Worth public television station KERA, the four candidates said they oppose abortion law exceptions for victims of rape and incest. After addressing supporters outside Thursday's hearing, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) took issue with the GOP stance.

"We tried the exception for rape and incest," Van de Putte said of Senate negotiations over the 20-week ban. "We tried the exception for the rape and incest of children. Not even in that case would any of them allow the family to make a decision."

"Most families, if their 13-year-old daughter or granddaughter is raped by a monster, the government shouldn't be telling you what decisions that you make as a family. That is a very personal and private decision," added Van de Putte. "I'm appalled that not even in the cases of rape and incest would those four guys who want to be lieutenant governor and the current one defer to the family. They all insist they know what a woman should do and what a child would do when faced with a rape or an incest. To me, it's absurd."

Meeting with media after early voting Thursday in Austin, Dewhurst confirmed his position that exceptions should only be made when the life of the mother is at risk. Responding to criticism from abortion rights supporters that the Republicans running for lieutenant governor are "extreme" on the issue, the incumbent accused Democrats of being the ones who are out of touch.

"What we passed is in the mainstream, the majority. Sixty-plus percent of all Texans support protecting women's health and protecting the preborn. Give me a break. This is pure politics," said Dewhurst. "I was, in a way, disappointed to hear Wendy Davis say, 'You know, maybe moving from six months termination day down to five months is okay.' Because it just proves it's all politics for them."

"This was an issue that 32 other states had earlier termination dates than we had in Texas. So we lowered it to five months," added Dewhurst. "Even pro-choice women tell me if you don't know in five months what you're going to do, you'll never know. Twenty-seven other states require ambulatory surgical centers for an abortion rather than in a dingy little office, alright? So we're trying to protect women's health and protect the preborn."

It's a debate that's clearly far from over.


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Thu, Feb 20, 2014 7:40 PM EST