Legislators in Texas heard emotional testimony Monday about a groundbreaking new bill that would criminalize abortion across the Lone Star State. The hearing, held before the House Judiciary Committee, did not wrap up until close to 3 a.m. Tuesday, after over eight hours of testimony.
For the first time in the state’s history, Texas lawmakers are considering legislation that would completely outlaw abortion. The historic bill would also subject physicians and mothers participating in abortive procedures to criminal prosecution.
House Bill 896, known as the “Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act,” was originally authored by Arlington Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R.) The controversial legislation would serve to criminalize abortion and classify it as a homicide, meaning that a mother who has an abortion could potentially receive the death penalty.
“A living human child,” the bill reads, “from the moment of fertilization on fusion of a human spermatozoon with a human ovum, is entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as are secured or granted by the laws of this state to any other human child.”
The pro-life legislation appears to be largely unprecedented in the post Roe v. Wade era. “From what I can tell, this is the first legislative hearing since 1973 on this topic,” said committee member Rep. Matt Kraus just before Monday’s hearing got underway.
Some in the pro-life community are concerned, however, about allowing criminal prosecutions to take place. Texans for Life president Kyleen Wright noted that her group “opposes criminalizing or penalizing women as it only protects the abortionist.”
But Rep. Tinderholt claims he is merely seeking to equalize the law.
“I think it’s important to remember that if a drunk driver kills a pregnant woman, they get charged twice. If you murder a pregnant woman, you get charged twice. So I’m not specifically criminalizing women. What I’m doing is equalizing the law,” Tinderholt said.
Democrats also criticized the bill’s criminalization of abortion.
“How essentially one is okay with subjecting a woman to the death penalty for the exact… to do to her the exact same thing that one is alleging that she is doing to a child,” said State Rep. Victoria Neave, a Democrat from Dallas.
Overall, though, many seemed hopeful about the bill.
“Hundreds of abolitionists are here at the capitol in Austin Texas for the first hearing of a bill, ever, that would abolish abortion in a state in our nation,” director of Right to Life East Texas, Mark Dickson, told Faithwire Monday night.
“This is an epic hearing. The first that is being heard anywhere in our nation’s history!” he added.
“There were 446 who registered for this bill, 54 who registered against it, and two who were neutral. At hearing’s end 326 people spoke in favor of HB 896--the bill to abolish abortion in Texas,” said Dickson.
One of those who testified during the hearing was Jubilee Thomas, younger sister of the late Jeremiah Thomas, a 16 year-old pro-life advocate whose dying wish was to see abortion abolished in his state of Texas.
The bill will next go before the full Texas House for debate.