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Texas This Week: Texas Senate passes sweeping abortion bills

Shannon Najmabadi, the women's health reporter for The Texas Tribune, joined KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to discuss the controversial bills.

AUSTIN, Texas — This week, the Texas Senate passed a controversial election bill, Gov. Greg Abbott traveled back to the border to highlight the migrant crisis and Shannon Najmabadi, the women's health reporter for The Texas Tribune, joined KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to discuss the controversial abortion bills passed by Texas lawmakers.

Three things to know in Texas politics

Gov. Greg Abbott was in Weslaco, Texas, on Thursday to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis at the border. He also highlighted the work of "Operation Lone Star," which launched one month ago. 

In that time, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers reported arresting 598 people for entering the country unlawfully – an average of 21 per day. They also helped seize 14 pounds of cocaine, 23 guns and arrested nine gang members. 

The governor shared harrowing stories from the border, including that of a mother and her six-month-old baby who were thrown from a raft into the river by cartel members and rescued, in part, by troopers. Abbott is calling on the Biden administration to take action to end the humanitarian crisis.  

RELATED: Gov. Abbott gives update on 'Operation Lone Star' at the Texas border

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has a new commissioner. The three former commissioners resigned in the wake of the winter storms that knocked out power to millions across Texas for days. The commissioners are appointed by the governor. 

On Thursday, Abbott nominated Will McAdams to be on the board. McAdams is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas and worked in state government for 10 years before that, most notably serving as an advisor to former Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen. 

The Senate will have to vote to confirm the appointment.

RELATED: Gov. Greg Abbott names former aide to retired House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to post regulating power grid

After hours of debate, the Texas Senate passed a sweeping election reform bill just after 2 a.m. Thursday. Among other things, Senate Bill 7 limits early voting hours, bans drive-thru voting and prohibits counties from proactively sending out mail-in ballot applications to voters. The bill is a top priority for Republicans who say it will increase election integrity. But Democrats say the bill is an act of voter suppression.

RELATED: Texas Senate advances bill limiting how and when voters can cast ballots, receive mail-in voting applications

Shannon Najmabadi discusses abortion bills

This week, the Texas Senate also passed a slate of abortion bills, including the "Heartbeat Bill," which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Shannon Najmabadi, the women's health reporter for The Texas Tribune, joined Ashley Goudeau to discuss the bills.

Ashley Goudeau: It's no surprise that the Texas Legislature is taking up bills related to abortion. This is something we're quite used to, right?

Shannon Najmabadi: "Yeah. And I think that they've made even more of an aggressive push this session just given the fairly new conservative makeup of the Supreme Court. Also, there are elections coming up in the coming months slash years, so I think that there's really been a more concerted push this session to enact pro-life, anti-abortion type bills and laws."

Goudeau: And some of the bills that they passed earlier this week were quite aggressive when you think about what they accomplish. Let's talk about – sort of the big one is Senate Bill 8. Tell us about it.

Najmabadi: "Senate Bill 8 is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's legislative priorities. He earmarked two abortion bills, SB8 and SB9, as being some of his top issues for the session. SB8, nearly all of the Republicans in the Senate have signed on as authors, and it would ban abortions as early as six weeks. So, as soon as a fetal heartbeat has been detected, that's the actual language of the bill, it's related to the – when that can be detected. There are not exceptions for rape or incest. There is an exception if there's a situation with a medical emergency.

And the other thing that's interesting about this bill, which is kind of – you've seen these so-called heartbeat bills passed in other states, but what's unique about the Texas bill is it also has this legal language in it that would let anyone, regardless of if they've had an abortion, regardless of if they had an experience with an abortion provider, to sue abortion providers. So it kind of has a double-pronged approach where it's banning abortions very early, often before many women know they are pregnant, and also has these legal type changes."

Goudeau: You also mentioned Senate Bill 9, which is another major priority for the lieutenant governor. Tell us what that bill does.   

Najmabadi: "Senate Bill 9 is what they call trigger legislation. It basically says that if the Supreme Court were to go back to the Roe v. Wade decision and overturn it or pass some other kind of abortion-related law that gave the State more power to regulate abortion, that most abortions, nearly all abortions in the state, would become illegal at that point. Sen. Paxton, Angela Paxton, is the lead author on this bill and, again, [there are] many coauthors in the Senate."

Goudeau: And is there actual hope among Republicans that that could happen?

Najmabadi: "I think there is a hope, just given the new makeup of the Supreme Court, that that decision could either be chipped away at or possibly revisited. I think that they're certainly hoping to challenge it with some of the legislation they've put forward, not just in Texas, but nationwide."

Goudeau: Sen. Angela Paxon authored Senate Bill 9. She also authored another bill that was passed earlier this week that would require a woman seeking [an] abortion to meet with sort of a counselor in person. Tell us about this bill. 

Najmabadi: "This is an interesting bill, Senate Bill 802. Basically what it would require is for the abortion provider to certify that the woman had gotten an offer of assistance. So, basically they would have to call, call or speak to a contractor, someone who's contracting with the state. I believe this will be through the Alternatives to Abortion program. And the – Sen. Paxton said that this woman could call and just basically get a PIN number that they would provide to the abortion provider. Then the PIN would be destroyed to verify they got this offer of assistance. 

Critics would say that this is forcing women to speak to someone whose mission may be to dissuade them from getting an abortion, could force them to get unwanted counseling, essentially, and add another step between when they, before they can get an abortion. There's already an ultrasound requirement, other requirements. And this would be another one."

Goudeau: We talked about three of the big bills that passed in the Senate, but they're three of many. Talk to us about some of the other abortion-related bills that you're watching this session there. 

Najmabadi: "I think there have been several dozen bills that have been filed already. One that was heard this week at the House actually would require that minors – well, fetuses – get appointed an attorney if they're going through this judicial bypass proceeding. This is basically that if a minor wants to get an abortion without their parents' consent or without their parents' knowledge – they might have an abuse situation or have other reasons why they can't get a parent's approval for this kind of a procedure – that they can go to a judge. And if the judge certifies that they're mature enough and well-informed enough about what they're doing to get an abortion, they can, they can do it. 

So, this bill would require that the fetus in that situation would be appointed a lawyer to represent their interests during this proceeding. The bill's author previously told me that these ideas would be fair to every party in this kind of situation. Opponents say that this makes a very, could make a very adversarial proceeding for a minor in a vulnerable situation and just rises beyond what they would need to prove."

Goudeau: Do you think this type of legislation could also open the door, though, for other legislation when it comes to a fetus being able to have representation in the court?  

Najmabadi: "It's an interesting question. Yesterday, or in the hearing, they mentioned that, you know, there are requirements for – I think the language in the actual statute is 'unborn children' – to be represented in different types of cases like state cases. I think probate is one they mentioned. The thing about the judicial bypass is that it's kind of a different requirement. The only thing the judge is certifying is that this minor cannot have their parents' consent to get the abortion procedure. It's not the same as these other cases where the unborn child would be a ward of the state. I don't know if it would open the door to more situations like that."

Goudeau: When we just look at Senate Bill 8, Senate Bill 9, Senate Bill 802, do you think there's an appetite for this type of legislation in the House now that it has passed the Senate?  

Najmabadi: "I think that certainly there are companion bills that have been filed, there seems to be quite a bit of momentum around these kinds of anti-abortion legislation. But we'll see what happens when they come to the floor."

The Last Word

In this week's The Last Word, Ashley shares a quote from State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) that was made on the Senate floor during the debate on abortion legislation. In Goudeau's opinion, the quote sums up the essence of Texas politics.

West: "This is the first time, members, that I've spoken on these bills. And to those persons, Sen. Eckhardt, that don't like these bills, they need to do something about it. And this is what I mean: I don't blame the Republicans in this chamber for passing these bills. They have power, it's part of their agenda, then you use that power to pass these bills. And that's what happening today. And so, for those of us that are against these types of bills, the only way that we're going to be able to fight these types of bills on the floor of the Senate, the legislature, the executive branch of government, is to make sure we get the power to be able to do that. Right now, we don't have it. We continue to complain about what the Republicans are doing. They're doing what they were elected to do: pass these particular bills."

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