The Texas House of Representatives State Affairs Committee [or what was left of it after a long day of testimony about airport scanners that can see you nekkid, fireworks, and whether abortion causes breast cancer (spoiler: it doesn’t, but the State of Texas will lie to you about that)], heard testimony Wednesday of this week on HB 2364, relating to abortion at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization.
HB 2364 would ban abortions at 20 weeks, allegedly because that is the point at which fetuses can feel pain. The only credible peer-reviewed studies on fetal pain suggest that fetuses might be able to experience pain* in the third trimester, which begins in the 27th week, not the 20th.
These are some—some—of the most outrageous things that happened during testimony. Twelve is an arbitrary cut-off, which you will understand if you read the live-tweet history of the hearing in this Storify from @quicksilvre.
1. As Rep. Laubenberg (R-Parker, which is near Plano) laid out the bill, Rep. Farrar (D-Houston) asked for clarification on how gestational age was being calculated, to which Rep. Laubenberg could only respond “post-fertilization.” If it doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry. It clearly didn’t make sense to anyone else in the room, including Rep. Laubenberg.
2. When the date of the last menstrual period, commonly abbreviated LMP, came up in the discussion about how gestational age is calculated (which is relevant when you are talking about banning a procedure at a specific week), everyone started apologizing about talking about LMP in front of the boys. Meaning the grown men on the committee, who surely understand basic reproductive biology by now, right? I mean, they are in the legislature. Laubenberg: “I’m trying to be sensitive with the men in here.” Farrar: “You brought the subject up, so we are going to discuss it.”
3. Laubenberg went on to explain that women rarely know, really, when the date of their last menstrual period is, saying, among other things, that not many women really use a calendar. She wrings her hands and suggests that it is one big mystery. So, we can measure fetal pain at 20 weeks, but we can never, ever know when LMP or conception happens, except that it happens “post-fertilization” or something. Again, if you are confused, you should’ve heard Laubenberg.
4. The first witness, an ob/gyn from Austin, Patrick Nunnelly, was positioned as the anti-choice/Laubenberg expert witness. He actually then said, several times during his testimony, that he is not an expert on this. As @quicksilvre and several others point out, when your expert explains that he’s not an expert, you’re doing it wrong.
5. Dr. Nunnelly called fetuses “vulnerable citizens who have no voice.” Show me the founding fathers’ document conferring the legal status of citizen on fetuses, please? Yeah, I thought so.
6. Another ob/gyn suggested forcing women to carry non-viable pregnancies to full term, instead of giving them the option to terminate, so those fetuses can be used for organ harvesting. Yes. She thought that would be a great option for women who didn’t want to be pregnant.
7. An anesthesiologist who flew in from Phoenix, Arizona, was the next expert on fetal pain. Except he’s never actually conducted or published any studies, or participated in any fetal surgery, so again, we suspect that some people may be unclear on exactly what constitutes an expert. Well, he’s observed some surgery. Oh, great. He also suggested that peer-review isn’t the only standard for evaluating medical research, because he’s in a journal club. Is that like peer-review, but with wine and kicky shoes?
Could they not find a doctor from Texas with any expertise in this area? Because, you know, we do have a world-renowned medical center in Houston.
8. A former Oklahoma state legislator, who still lives and practices law in Oklahoma, testified that this law is just like the one they’ve got in Oklahoma, except the penalty in the Texas bill isn’t as harsh. In Oklahoma, the crime warrants a felony. Man up, Texas, he didn’t say, but was clearly dying to say. As @andreagrimes said, call me when Kevin Calvey is a pregnant Texan. And when he registers to vote here, I would add.
Who, by the way, is paying to fly witnesses in from out of state?
There’s a narrative that terrorists who attack abortion clinics are lone wolves, acting totally alone with no help, support, or encouragement from the larger movement. There’s now a parallel argument for fetal pain and other anti-abortion bills being proposed in state legislatures, just coincidentally at the same time, because suddenly everyone has spontaneous revelations about abortion. Trust me, those narratives are false. When witnesses are being flown in from other states, and the bills all pop up at the same time, you can bet there is a concerted effort to restrict rights and force a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
9. During testimony, we heard about little critters, ducks, geese, grasshoppers, and kittens. And pudding. We also had a witness use a banana to demonstrate something about a fetus. It was odd.
10. One witness told the story about the fetus who reached his hand out of the womb to shake the doctor’s hand during an abortion. As @fullfrontalfem pointed out, this is a story that has been definitively debunked. The photo was taken during fetal surgery performed for a woman who was desperately trying to keep her pregnancy. The same witness also mentioned videos on YouTube as a great source for facts.
11. Trying to one-up the YouTube cite, another witness points to the hard-hitting journalism of USA Today, which “exposed” the author of one study about abortion as being a medical director from an abortion clinic. This is like the argument that you don’t believe in career politicians. No one looks to citizen-cardiologists to do their cardiac stents, or weekend neurosurgeons to conduct brain surgery. It is hardly scandalous that a medical doctor who has performed abortions would participate in a medical study about abortion. It actually is a little scandalous when the only evidence you can cite refuting a peer-reviewed study from the JAMA is USA Today.
12. Rep. Harless shared the fact that she and her husband, unable to conceive, tried for five years to adopt a baby, both in the states and abroad. She used this experience to suggest that women should be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term because someone else might really, really want the baby.
This, to me, is one of the most offensive things that happened. If you want a baby, and you cannot have one, that is tragic. Adoption can be difficult and expensive. Still, there is no constitutional right to having an infant child, and no human or humane value that suggests you can force another person to act as your unwilling surrogate.
What of the children in foster care? What, exactly, are we to say of the people who claim they were unable to adopt a child, who clearly ignore the already-born but no longer infant children in foster care? Are people like Rep. Harless suggesting that they want some modicum of control over the terms of becoming a parent? That they want some children, but not other children? That perhaps they aren’t emotionally or financially able to care for an older child with special needs, but will only take a chance on parenting if they get a healthy infant?
It isn’t actually my right to question the terms under which Rep. Harless might or might not want to become a parent, but because she brought up her story in the context of denying that right to other Texas women, it seems relevant.
The best news of the night was that the bill was not voted out of committee, but was left as pending business. The women of Texas deserve better than arbitrary legislation that tries to subvert their right to choose whether or when to end a pregnancy. Women are more than empty vessels waiting to be filled up by fetuses. We are not life-support systems for uteruses. We are actualized, already-born citizens with actual rights, full stop.
*[It should be noted that “experience pain” is somewhat misleading, because pain, itself, cannot be objectively measured. Studies look at various physiological responses to stimuli that are similar to responses measured by the already-born who can express that they feel pain. Some studies, moreover, focus on the issue as it relates to anesthesia during in utero medical procedures other than abortion, and later in fetal development than 20 weeks.]