Texas and its local governments would no longer be able to partner with abortion providers or their affiliates — even for services like sexual health education and pregnancy prevention initiatives — under a bill the Texas House passed in a preliminary vote late Friday after hours of emotional debate.
Senate Bill 22, which critics call the biggest threat to Planned Parenthood this legislative session, would forbid a government entity from transferring money to an abortion provider, even for services not related to the procedure. It would also bar a transfer of goods or services and any transaction that offers the provider “something of value derived from state or local tax revenue.” Abortion rights advocates fear that the bill could even prohibit privately funded programs held on government property, like pop-up sexual health education booths at community colleges.
The controversial bill dominated the lower chamber’s agenda Friday for more than seven hours and tentatively passed in an 81-65 vote.
“This is a taxpayer protection bill,” said Rep. Candy Noble, R-Allen. “Taxpayers who oppose abortion should not have to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry.”
The bill needs one more vote in the lower chamber before it heads back to the Republican-controlled Senate. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, added an amendment that clarifies the bill would not restrict a city or county from banning abortions. If the upper chamber agrees with that change, the bill will then head to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
The bill would also apply to an affiliate of an abortion provider, so no Planned Parenthood clinics could partner with a local government — even clinics that don’t provide abortions. That would include programs like one in Dallas County where Planned Parenthood staffers have provided sexual health education, including information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, at juvenile detention centers.
Abortion-rights advocates and several Democrats lambasted the bill.
“Senate Bill 22 has nothing to do with impacting abortion services,” state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said at a press conference. “What Senate Bill 22 does is take aim at the routine and lifesaving health care services offered by Planned Parenthood.”
There were several attempts by Democrats to amend the bill — but the endeavors ultimately failed. Of the 23 attempted amendments, only Stickland’s was successful.
The state has slashed much of its funding for abortion providers in the last decade — but SB 22 would also cut local funding. Abortion opponents say the bill is critical because although government money can’t fund the procedure, money funneled to abortion providers could be used to boost an organization’s operations in other key ways, like funding advertisements or opening a new clinic. Some abortion opponents argue that even when no money is exchanged, local partnerships with abortion providers offer the clinics a “free advertisement” and “free customer base.”
Bill supporters have singled out a key target of SB 22: Planned Parenthood’s $1-per-year lease for its East Austin clinic, which abortion opponents have railed against as a “sweetheart rent deal” with the city.
“By even giving them $5 for a noncontroversial service, the state is endorsing what they do,” said John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group in support of the bill.