Texas House Bill 896 called for state prosecutors to bring either assault or homicide charges against women who received abortions or physicians who carried out abortions through medical procedures or prescription medication. Homicide is a capital crime in the state of Texas, meaning the bill opened up the possibility of women and physicians receiving the death penalty for abortions.
The language of the proposed legislation failed to mention any exceptions for cases of rape, incest or pregnancies that posed health risks for mothers. The bill stated that from the time of conception, unborn children would be protected by Texas state law “regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision.”
The committee’s Republican chairman, Jeff Leach, who is also an avid pro-life supporter, announced Wednesday that he would not move the bill for consideration by the whole House because criminally prosecuting women who receive abortions would only distract from the pro-life cause.
“I cannot in good conscience support House Bill 896 - legislation that subjects women who undergo abortions to criminal liability and even the possibility of the death penalty,” Leach said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Trusted pro-life legislators and advocates agree with me that this bill moves our state and the pro-life cause in the wrong direction.”
Although the bill will not be considered further in the state House, the hearing came at a time when fetal heartbeat legislation, laws that would outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy when doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat, are gaining momentum in Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country. Other state governments fear the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.
Hundreds of advocates, representing both pro-choice and pro-life causes, testified in a two-day hearing Monday and Tuesday in front of the Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, The Washington Post reported. One woman, Sonya Gonnella, who announced herself at the hearing as “a follower of the lord Jesus Christ” vocalized the strong religious beliefs behind the fight to ban abortion.
“God’s word says, ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man — the civil government — his blood will be shed,’” said Gonnella, quoting the Book of Genesis and calling on representatives to “repent with us.”
Others harshly opposed the bill during the hearing. Some pro-life organizations, including Texans for Life, opposed the bill for its drastic changes to state penal code.
“I’m trying to reconcile in my head the arguments that I heard tonight about 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 she is doing to a child,” state Rep. Victoria Neave, a Democrat who represents part of Dallas County, told The Washington Post.
The committee’s chairman received harsh criticism for opening up the bill for consideration in a public hearing in the first place. The author of the bill, Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, received death threats when he first introduced the measure in 2017 and was placed under state protection.
Tinderholt told The Texas Observer that the bill was necessary to hold women “more personally responsible” for the possible consequence of sexual relationships: children.