Texas Senate to deliberate on legislation for abortions

Allison Kroll

Editor’s Note: This story is the second in a six-part series examining how bills during the 82nd legislative session will impact students. A pre-abortion sonogram bill will head to the Senate floor for debate later this legislative session, after passing through the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on Wednesday. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, proposed the legislation, which requires a physician to take a sonogram a minimum of 24 hours before an abortion. The only exception to the time frame is medical emergencies. The bill is on Gov. Rick Perry’s emergency items list, and the cost to implement the bill’s provisions will be minimal, according to the Legislative Budget Board, a joint committee that recommends appropriations for state agencies. Lawmakers and the media misunderstood the intent of the bill, Patrick said. It’s about a woman’s right to know about the risks and what the abortion procedure entails, he said. The sonogram bill requires the facility where the sonogram is performed to give printed materials to the patient describing the risks, the free pregnancy services available in the area and a comprehensive list of adoption agencies, the services they provide and how to contact them. “The bill will provide a high level of informed consent,” Patrick said in a statement released Wednesday. “It will ensure there are no barriers preventing women from receiving the information to which they are entitled for such a life-changing decision.” A new draft of the bill could give women seeking an abortion the option to refuse to view the results of their sonogram. The doctor, who would be required to check for the heartbeat, may allow the patient to listen if she chooses. “This bill clearly says a woman can choose not to hear,” Patrick said in Wednesday’s committee meeting. The legislation as originally drafted did not allow the patient to refuse the results of the sonogram, but instead advised her to “avert her eyes” during the process. Prior to Wednesday’s committee meeting, the bill mandated a two-hour waiting period before the sonogram and gave the abortion facility one week to notify the Department of State Health Services of the procedure. The committee revised the notification period to one month. The sonogram bill also requires the doctor to give “a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity and the presence of external members and internal organs,” as written in the original draft. Critics of the bill, including Planned Parenthood, said Texas lawmakers should focus more on solving economic problems instead of attempting to become intimately involved in patient-doctor relations. “There’s a $27-billion budget shortfall, and a lot of Texans are looking for jobs and health insurance, or they’re worried about their local schools being closed,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Sarah J. Wheat. “With these incredibly pressing issues, I think a big question a lot of Texans have is why aren’t legislators and the governor focused on solving those problems, instead of spending their time practicing medicine and getting intimately involved in private medical decisions.” Wheat said the abortion procedure has a long track record with state regulation. “This is a bill that puts politicians directly in the exam room,” Wheat said. “Sentimentally, this is a safe, legal medical procedure that is highly regulated and governed by numerous state laws.” Coalition for Life, an Austin organization that provides prayer vigils and sidewalk counseling outside of local abortion clinics, supports the legislation because it could result in fewer women choosing to have abortions, said Executive Director Elizabeth McClung. “We’re finding that women aren’t always given the option of seeing the ultrasound before they go through with the abortion,” McClung said. “Coming from the standpoint of looking out for what’s best for not only the mother but also the child that’s growing inside her womb, we fully support any legislation that’s trying to protect human life.” Because abortions are performed in privacy behind sterile clinic doors, many women aren’t aware of the stages of their baby’s development, she said, and requiring sonograms will allow them to make a more informed decision. “In getting that window into the womb, it’s sort of pulling the curtain back on what abortion is actually doing,” McClung said. “Educating women about what’s going on inside their womb with their baby really encourages women to choose life.” If the bill is approved by the Senate’s overall vote when it reaches the floor for debate, it will then be passed on to Perry for signing.