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Texas Legislators Considered Making Abortion A Death Penalty Crime

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) - Texas lawmakers considered a bill that would allow a woman who undergoes an abortion procedure to possibly be charged with capital murder -- a crime punishable by death in Texas.

House Bill 896, introduced in the Texas House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, would remove the exception in the penal code for criminal homicide that applies to women and medical professionals and allow them to be charged with murder of an unborn child.

The measure would be a blanket ban on abortion procedures in the state, allowing the state to enforce the bill "regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision." The landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade affirmed the legality of a woman's right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

"A living human child, from the moment of fertilization on fusion of a human spermatozoon with a human ovum, is entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as are secured or granted by the laws of this state to any other human child," the bill says.

After a marathon hearing -- that stretched until 3 a.m. -- HB 896 was left pending in committee. Republicans currently hold a majority in both chambers of the Texas Legislature.

The committee's chairman, Republican Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), said last week that he would not allow a bill out of committee that "targets the woman with either civil or criminal liability," according to the Dallas Morning News. Yet, he said he would grant a hearing for any bill requested by a member. CNN has reached out to Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's office for comment as to whether he would sign the bill should it pass the legislature.

The committee heard from over 300 witnesses during Monday's hearing on HB 896 that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morning. According to Leach, 446 witnesses had registered their approval for the bill, with 54 against.

Democratic state Rep. Victoria Neave said she's "trying to reconcile" how supporters of the bill would do to a woman "the exact same thing that one is alleging that she is doing to a child," by making her eligible for the death penalty.

Texas state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican who introduced the bill, argued that the legislation does "not specifically target women" nor is he "specifically criminalizing women," but "equalizing the law so that everyone that is culpable or takes part in what I call murder ... can be punished."

This isn't the first time Tinderholt attempted to pass such a bill. In 2017 he filed the Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act, which also would have allowed abortion providers and women who undergo an abortion to be charged with murder.

The hours-long hearing remained largely civil until the committee heard from its first panel opposed to the bill.

"The bill authors know that this legislation is unconstitutional because of federal judicial precedent set by Roe v Wade," NARAL Pro-Choice legislative intern Jasmine Wang said. "So even giving this bill a hearing is both a waste of time and resources."

Leach took issue with Wang's testimony and went on to grill Wang on her stances on abortion. He also accused NARAL's witnesses of "sniggering" and "laughing" during others' testimonies.

"Chairman Jeff Leach entertaining this bill and giving it a hearing proves that the anti-abortion's relentless and coordinated attempt to shame and criminalize women who have abortions as well as the doctors who perform that care is dangerous and out of touch with the majority of Texas who believe abortion should be safe and legal," Delma Catalina Limones, the communications manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement provided to CNN.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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