Texas Senate advances bill requiring pre-abortion counseling

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

State Sen. Angela Paxton at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention in San Antonio when she was still a candidate vying for her Collin County seat in the upper chamber.
State Sen. Angela Paxton at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention in San Antonio when she was still a candidate vying for her Collin County seat in the upper chamber.
Bob Daemmrich/BDP Inc.

The Texas Senate advanced a bill on Thursday that would require pregnant people to receive counseling before getting an abortion.

Senate Bill 2243 would require a counselor to give pregnant women informational materials that detail the medical risks of the procedure and alternatives to abortion — a pamphlet that opponents say contains false information, although the law requires it to be medically accurate. The counselor would also inform the pregnant person about available local and state support services, including child care, medical care, housing, and employment assistance.

Bill advocates say such counseling is necessary to inform pregnant women of all resources available to them. They also say the free service would prevent women from getting an abortion and then later regretting the decision.

“This bill is built to provide that kind of a support so that no woman has to ask — ‘What if I had known?’” said McKinney Republican state Sen. Angela Paxton, the bill’s author. “She can make a decision that’s best for her. It’s built on reality, not on fear, and not on the unknown.”

While Paxton said that the counseling sessions would be “built around the convenience of the woman,” no such language exists in the bill, and abortions rights advocates also worry that such a measure would add burdensome pressures on top of the state’s existing requirements.

Bill opponents also fear that the legislation lacks key protections, like a requirement for the counselor to be a licensed medical professional. They also say a counselor could harass or pressure pregnant people against following through with the procedure.

“In the legislature there have been layers and layers and hoops that women have to go through when they are seeking this difficult decision,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

The bill was tentatively approved in a 21 to 10 vote, with Democratic state Sens. Eddie Lucio and Judith Zaffirini bucking their party to support the measure. The Health and Human Services Commission would set the counselor’s qualifications and monitor the counseling program, which would cost the state $1.9 million.

Before getting an abortion, the pregnant person would have to show documentation of their counseling meeting. State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, worried that a counselor could prevent the abortion by delaying the necessary documentation, so he added a provision that the counselor must issue the certificate within one business day or “as soon as practicable” after the appointment.

SB 2243 includes an exception for abortions made in a medical emergency, and it would also require a screening for domestic violence, human trafficking, and coerced abortion.

The bill requires an additional vote before it moves to the House.