Texas State Affairs Committee to Hear Life and Marriage Bills on Wednesday

Breitbart Texas/Bob Price

The State Affairs Committee of the Texas House will hear testimony on Wednesday on bills relating to the sanctity of marriage and life related issues. Committee Chairman Byron Cook has scheduled the hearing for HB 4105, HB 3130 and HB 2351.

In January, State Representative Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) introduced HB 4105 to protect the sovereignty of Texas and traditional marriage, according to a previous report on Breitbart Texas. The bill is titled the Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act.

In an interview with Breitbart Texas in January, Bell talked about the firestorm from the gay community over his bill. “The homosexual community across the nation has sent several thousand emails to my capitol email account. Less than 10 percent came from Texas, but this is their national cause and this bill alarms them.”

Bell said the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Texas’ right to determine laws related to marriage such as the Texas Traditional Marriage Constitutional Amendment. “Texas will stand up and defend its constitutional rights against federal overreach,” Bell said.

The bill would prohibit funds from state and local governments being used to license or support same-sex marriage. This would include the blocking of salaries of any government employee engaged in subverting Texas law regarding marriage.

Also on the agenda for Wednesday’s hearing is HB 3130 by State Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown). The bill is reforms Section 1. Title 8 of the Texas Insurance Code by prohibiting insurance coverage for abortions under state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, 42 U.S. C. Section 18021). The bill does not provide any reforms to private insurance plans relating to abortions, nor does it deal with the insurance of State of Texas employees. If this bill were to pass, Texas taxpayers would be subsidizing elective abortion coverage under these plans.

HB 1435, offered by State Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo), does address abortion reform related to private insurance coverage. Smithee’s bill has been referred to the State Affairs Committee as well, but Chairman Cook has yet to schedule it for a hearing.

“Texas Right to Life hopes that the House Committee on State Affairs will recognize the strength and legal scholarship in Texas Right to Life’s priority bills and set these bills for hearings soon,” said spokeswoman Melissa Conway, in response to questions from Breitbart Texas.

HB 3130 weakens the definition in current law of a medical emergency. The bill strikes the term “life-threatening.” Instead, the bill states unless the immediate abortion is necessary to avert her death or “a delay in performing the abortion creates a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, other than a psychological or emotional condition.”

“In the meantime, the committee is hearing two bills that are problematic weaker versions of the stronger bills,” she continued, “and we hope the committee will be open to our feedback and strengthen the bills.

“The bill could be used as a loophole to authorize the coverage of elective abortions,” Conway explained. “This is the opposite of the stated purpose of the bill.”

She said the bill “changes the language of current law that disqualifies a woman’s mental/emotional state as a medical emergency reason for abortion. For example, a woman’s threat of harming herself or committing suicide in the future does not count as a medical emergency in current law, but HB 3130 changes that.”

The second bill Conway referred to is HB 2351. This bill by State Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring) addresses the ethics committee review process used by hospitals and doctors to withdraw treatment from patients and thereby speed their deaths.

Current Texas law [Texas Health and Safety Code, 166.046] allows a physician or hospital to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment, including food and water, from a patient for any reason despite the patient’s advance directive or expressed wishes. Once the physician’s decision is made and then approved by the hospital’s own ethics committee or futility committee process, the patient/family are given ten days to transfer to another facility or to another physician. Neither the physician nor the facility is obligated to provide the patient with life-sustaining treatment beyond the tenth day. This can and has led to the death of patients.

HB2351 instructs health care facilities to write two types of policies about this ethics committee and the 10-day law: one on conflicts of interest and a second on discrimination of disabled patients. Neither requirement explains what the policy should be, but rather directs hospitals to write policies. This leaves the hospital free to do whatever it thinks is best. “Some hospitals may not currently use written policies,” Conway explained, “but hospitals still have unmitigated authority to determine who lives and who dies under the ten-day law.”

Conway explained that another problem with HB 2351 is that it instructs health care facilities to write an internal policy concerning financial and professional conflicts of interest for the members of the ethics or futility review committee. The bill does not; however, reform current law that gives unilateral authority to the committee over the lives of patients. “There is no way to remove conflicts of interest from this process under HB 2351 without reforming current law,” she stated.

“Neither bill scheduled for this week adequately addresses the subject matter of insurance coverage for abortion or reform to the hospital ethics committee process,” Conway stated. “The committee will be allocating time on these two bills when they could be passing real reforms on insurance coverage and on the Texas Advance Directive Law.”

“HB 1435 by Representative Smithee protects insurance consumers from subsidizing the abortion of others in three different risk pools, whereas HB 3130 only addresses the ACA exchanges,” she explained. “HB 3130 not only relaxes the current law on the definition of ‘medical emergency,’ but HB 3130 effectively does not restrict insurance coverage of abortion at all.”  HB 1435 has been referred to the State Affairs Committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

HB 3414 by Representative James Frank offers real protections for hospitalized patients who are disabled from discriminatory quality of life value judgments made by an unelected ethics committee,” Conway expressed. “This differs from HB 2351 which includes loopholes that endanger hospitalized patients who are disabled.”

In a memorandum obtained by Breitbart Texas from the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, Burke J. Balch, J.D., who also serves on the National Right to Life Committee wrote:

In order to avoid supporting genuine legislation to prevent the involuntary denial of lifesaving medical treatment discriminatorily based on disability sanctioned by current Texas law, HB 2351 has been put forward in the evident hope that legislators who vote for it will have the excuse of claiming that they have done something to limit this injustice.

In fact, HB 2351’s apparent limit on disability discrimination is utterly meaningless. Under it, health care facilities would adopt policies that they themselves would have full discretion to draft “to prohibit consideration of a patient’s permanent physical or mental disability during a review [under the existing Texas law allowing facility ethics committees to authorize involuntary denial of life-preserving medical treatment] unless the disability is relevant in determining whether a medical or surgical intervention is medically appropriate.”

The bill leaves completely open to facility and facility committee interpretation whether a patient’s disability “is relevant in determining whether a medical or surgical intervention is medically appropriate.” Many medical ethicists have published articles and books maintaining that if a person’s “quality of life” is deemed too poor for life to be worth living, or to justify expending medical resources on preserving it, then life-preserving treatment is for that reason not “medically appropriate.” And all too many consider that certain levels of physical or mental disability bring a person’s “quality of life” below a tolerable minimum. A judgment whether the quality of one’s life is worth living is a very subjective one. Current Texas law takes that judgment away from the person whose life it is, or that person’s family or other legally authorized surrogate, and puts it in the hands of health facility committees – and HB 2351 would fully preserve their ability to judge whether the degree of a person’s disability makes preserving that patient’s life “medically appropriate.”

It is one thing to support an incremental measure that falls short of the ideal but makes a substantive improvement in an existing bad law. It is quite another to promote a bill whose content makes no substantive difference in providing protection to people with disabilities. HB 2351 is not merely useless; it is worse than useless because its self-contradicting language can be employed in an attempt to mislead constituents into thinking their representatives did something – when in fact they did nothing – to protect people with disabilities from being forced to die against their will.

The hearing by the State Affairs Committee is currently scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, or upon final adjournment or recess of the House in room JHR 140. If you wish to testify on, for, or against the bills, you will need to register on one of the automatic registration kiosks located in the hallway behind the hearing room.

This article has been updated.

Bob Price is a senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas and a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and on Facebook.