Texas women seeking abortions must now receive a sonogram and hear audio of the fetus’s heartbeat 24 to 72 hours before their procedure.
These additions to the sonogram bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, were ruled constitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The sonogram bill, passed in the 2011 legislative session last August, requires women to receive a sonogram one to three days before their abortion. Prior to the bill, women were not required to have a sonogram unless medically necessary and could receive an abortion in one visit.
Physicians already performed sonograms prior to abortions before the bill was passed, but the bill now requires them to perform trans-vaginal sonograms, a procedure that Sarah Wheat, co-CEO of Planned Parenthood in Austin, said is not medically necessary.
“The sonogram was already being provided since October in this most evasive manner,” Wheat said. “The difference now is that the physician has to verbally describe the songogram images and provide a heartbeat if audible, even if the person says they do not want to hear it.”
Wheat said the center has consulted with their medical staff and attorneys to decipher how to enforce the state mandate. She said the transition has gone smoothly and she has seen no changes in the number of abortions requested.
“Before the politicians got involved, about a third of the women wanted to see the image and even took home pictures,” Wheat said. “Most women who are choosing a safe abortion have already prayed on this and deeply discussed why they are choosing this regardless of what enforcements politicians make.”
Wheat said the ruling will have a great impact on college students because most abortions are performed on women under the age of 25.
Juan Portillo, a women’s and gender studies graduate student, said the new ruling will only add stress to an already difficult situation.
“It’s really just another way of pretty overtly controlling our bodies,” Portillo said. “It’s easy to have an opinion and pass or change laws without really knowing what goes through the heads of women who are making this decision.”
Portillo said the law will have more of a negative impact on college-aged women who have to deal with the stigmas of young motherhood and single-parent families when making their decisions.
“It’s a matter of what position you are at in life and how able you are to withstand the repercussions,” Portillo said. “Older women may be more independent as mothers, caregivers and career women, whereas college students go home to an empty apartment and have to deal with their situation alone.”
Portillo said politicians should put their focus on giving pregnant women social, cultural and educational support instead of telling doctors and patients how to conduct their abortions.
Lori DeVillez, executive director at the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, said the sonogram bill is a pro-woman bill that ensures good medical practice and the center has not seen any changes from its enforcement.
“If you are going in to any other surgery you meet with your doctor and understand exactly what it is you will be going through,” DeVillez said.
DeVillez said the sonograms allow women to connect with the reality of their situation and the 24-72 hour time period before abortions gives them time to assess their decisions.
“When they are able to have the sonogram it becomes real to them and they see that the baby is a part of them,” DeVillez said. “A lot of times they feel they have to do something right away and this gives them time to think.”