Monday, May 16, 2005

Dead Man Talking

Republican Rep. Will Hartnett of Dallas:
"You can live without anything but a brain."

Time is ticking down for the 79th Texas Legislature, and today was the opening day of Sneaky Season, when disgruntled legislators whose bills didn’t make the first time around start trying to sneak them in as amendments to bills that are sure to pass.

Today the Texas House considered SB 419, a sunset bill dealing with, among other agencies, the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, to wit:

relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, Texas State Board of Physician Assistant Examiners, and Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners and the regulation of health care professions regulated by those state agencies; providing administrative penalties.

That might not sound like an abortion bill to you and me, but Rep. Will Hartnett of Dallas, who’s never heard of a uterus he didn’t feel an overwhelming compulsion to control, stepped to the microphone and made it clear why the marvelous Pink Dome calls him a "sneaky son of a bitch."

And I’m here to tell you how true that is.

The Texas Health and Safety Code already contains a ban on third trimester abortion, and this is what it says.

§ 170.002. PROHIBITED ACTS; EXEMPTION. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person may not intentionally or knowingly perform an abortion on a woman who is pregnant with a viable unborn child during the third trimester of the pregnancy.

(b) Subsection (a) does not prohibit a person from performing an abortion if at the time of the abortion the person is a physician and concludes in good faith according to the physician's best medical judgment that:
(1) the fetus is not a viable fetus and the pregnancy is not in the third trimester;
(2) the abortion is necessary to prevent the death or a substantial risk of serious impairment to the physical or mental health of the woman; or
(3) the fetus has a severe and irreversible
abnormality, identified by reliable diagnostic procedures.
(c) A physician who performs an abortion that, according to the physician's best medical judgment at the time of the abortion, is to abort a viable unborn child during the third trimester of the pregnancy shall certify in writing to the
department, on a form prescribed by the department, the medical indications supporting the physician's judgment that the abortion was authorized by Subsection (b)(2) or (3). The certification must be made not later than the 30th day after the date the abortion was performed.

But that’s not enough for Hartnett, who says that exceptions to preserve a woman’s health are "loopholes that you can drive a bus through," and that consideration of any extreme of mental illness in a woman is "irrelevant." Hartnett’s amendment says that no doctor may perform an abortion in the third trimester unless:

1. the woman will otherwise die,

2. the fetus is diagnosed with "severe and
irreversible brain damage," or

3. the woman is diagnosed with imminent "severe and irreversible brain damage or paralysis."

If not for an amendment-to-the-amendment by Rep. Richard Raymond of Laredo, a woman wouldn’t have gotten even that much recognition as a human being. But as Rep.Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles asked Hartnett when he objected to Raymond’s amendment, why isn’t a woman’s brain damage at least as important as brain damage in a fetus?

Democratic reps Patrick Rose, Rafael Anchía, Pete Gallego, Trey Martínez-Fischer, Eddie Rodriguez, Melissa Noriega, Ruth Jones McClendon, Craig Eiland and others rose repeatedly to fight this thing as hard as they could, and even Republicans Dan Branch, Ruben Hope and Beverly Woolley tried to persuade Hartnett to extend a little mercy to women who face cancer, major organ failure or other grave threats to their health.

Here are some examples of what I heard today from Hartnett and his friends, some of whom authored anti-choice bills of their own. I might have missed a word or two while I was throwing up, but this is what my scribbled notes say.

Bill Zedler: "C. Everett Koop never saw an incidence where a late-term abortion saved the life of the mother."

Patrick Rose: "Are you saying that you personally talked to the former surgeon general?"

Zedler: "Go and ask him."

Rose: "Was he an obstetrician?"

Zedler: "He was a pediatrician. He was around them all the time."

Hartnett even has trouble hearing other Republicans -- you know, the sane ones.

Beverly Woolley: "Can a fetus live without other vital organs (besides the brain)?"

Hartnett: "They can do transplants."

Woolley: "These are vital organs. That’s V-I-T-A-L, I think. You can live without anything but a brain? Can you live without a heart? A liver?"

Hartnett: "You can live without anything but a brain. Sure, you can live without just about anything."

I’ve listened to a lot of heartless rhetoric against abortion in my time, and it’s hard to shake me. But I got chills today listening to Will Hartnett.

"Do we give a doctor the ability to kill a child because of a concern about vital organs?"

"We need to protect children given the priorities of mothers in our society."

"It’s our job to protect the Constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for viable unborn children."

"We don’t punish citizens for the mistakes of the parents."

"Impairment to a woman’s health" can’t justify abortion when "we could be killing off Einstein" just because "a woman might have some organ damage."

If you've read this far, I’m sure you have an idea of the general tenor of the proceedings. I hope so, because I've relived all of it that I can stand.

Patrick Rose said that not one doctor had testified, that the medical community opposed the amendment, and that "this is the last vote in the world we should cast," but of course they did it anyway.

As long as they were on a roll, the House further amended SB 419 by tacking Phil King’s parental consent bill, HB 1212, onto it, too. The Senate is expected to approve its own version, SB 1150, a humane piece of legislation which adheres to the language of our current notification law. Sen. Rodney Ellis reportedly has an understanding with its author, Sen. Craig Harris, that the Senate Democrats will approve SB 1150 unless the House restores the repressive restrictions of King’s bill – but the wolf pack in the House couldn’t even wait that long.

But at least SB 419 is a Senate bill, and this atrocity won’t become law if the Senate rejects the Hartnett Amendment. So maybe we’d better waste no time in calling our
Texas State Senators
up and telling them what we think about the peculiar notion of the majority of the Texas House that both women and their babies "can live without anything but a brain."

Maybe they don’t even need that much, because if Hartnett’s right, today I heard a dead man talking.

Crossposted to
The Daily Kos

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