WASHINGTON – Texas state lawmakers this week debated legislation that would criminalize having an abortion and make women who have them at risk of being sentenced to death in the state.
The bill, which led to lengthy public hearings on Monday and Tuesday after being introduced in January, would rework what classifies as a homicide in the state, expanding the rights of unborn children. Both women who have abortions and physicians who conduct the procedure could be charged with homicide, a charge that can carry a sentenced of the death penalty in the state.
The bill, titled the "Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act," was originally introduced two years ago but failed to gain traction. That changed this week when a hearing was held over the proposal.
"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," state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican, who introduced the bill, said, according to FOX 5. "What I’m doing is equalizing the law."
Two years ago when Tinderholt first introduced the legislation, he was placed under state protection due to a number of death threats targeting him and his family, according to the Texas Tribune.
The bill faces an uphill battle as a top Republican lawmaker, who controls whether the bill would go to the House floor for a vote, said the legislation would not advance.
"I cannot and will not support nor will I let come out of this committee any bill on [abortion] which targets the woman with either civil or criminal liability," Republican Rep. Jeff Leach said last week, according to the Dallas Morning News. He reaffirmed that stance after this week's hearings on the bill, saying that while he is pro-life, this bill does not advance that message.
"I am pro-life, through and through. No one can question my credentials on this issue and my commitment to this important cause," he said. "That said, I do not believe that convicting a woman who has an abortion of murder and possibly subjecting her to the death penalty is constitutional, nor does such a policy advance the cause of life in Texas."
Ahead of Tuesday's hearing on the bill, hundreds signed up to testify over the legislation, most of whom were in favor of it. But Democrats were quick to pick apart the bill and point out its contradicting aim.
"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,” said Democratic state Rep. Victoria Neave, according to the Washington Post.