Sonogram bill clears hurdle in TX Senate after compromises

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Texas senators tentatively approved the abortion sonogram bill Monday, which is one of the five emergency items Gov. Rick Perry announced at the start of the session.

The bill would require women seeking an abortion to see a sonogram and listen to a description of the fetus and its heartbeat at least 24 hours before being eligible for an abortion. The House passed its version of the bill in March, while the Senate passed an amended version more than one month later. The main difference between the two versions is the time period requirement — the House’s version proposes 24 hours, compared to the Senate version’s two hours.

Because they could not agree, five representatives and senators went into conference committee, where they ultimately decided on a two-hour clause for women living in rural areas. Women who live more than 100 miles away from a clinic can opt to wait only two hours after a sonogram to receive an abortion.

The Senate took up the bill from conference committee Monday, and its version tightened up the bill’s language.

“If you look at the heart of what this bill does, it says a woman has the right to have access to the medical information from informed consent before she makes that decision,” said sonogram bill author Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. “She has the option to look at the sonogram, hear the heartbeat, but at least she should know about it.”

The rural area clause was not be enough for Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who said the bill
should also accommodate a broader array of situations women may face
while making the “toughest decision of their life.”

“It may be other circumstances that would impede someone from being able to follow your soon-to-be requirements,” Whitmire said. “It disturbs me on behalf of the people I represent.”

He went as far as saying the bill might unintentionally push women to go to illegal or out-of-state abortion clinics or other countries, such as Mexico, to have the
procedure done.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, strongly opposed the sonogram bill and said it had an ulterior motive.

“The purpose of the bill is to traumatize women who are
considering an abortion procedure into making a decision otherwise,”
Davis said. “Have we thought about the psychological impact of
this on women?”

Patrick quickly responded during the tense moment before Davis could continue.

“Senator, you know me better than that. You know the purpose of the bill is not to traumatize
women,” he said. “I think we’re going to improve the medical
care for women.”

Davis later proposed three of seven amendments to the bill, including one that would give women the option to receive the information from their “trusted” primary physician versus an abortion doctor. Patrick did not accept it.

“Right now under [current] informed consent, a woman’s own doctor can give her the information,” Davis said. “It would only make sense for a woman to go through the process with her
own doctor.”

Senators will hear the controversial bill again tomorrow for a final Senate floor vote. If the Senate passes the legislation, it will again move to the House for a floor vote.