Nine hours of testimony in the Senate State Affairs Committee, hundreds of pro-life advocates rallying at the state Capitol and even a technician performing ultrasounds live on expectant mothers just outside the House chamber. Still, with all that in-your-face attention over the past week, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, isn’t the only state lawmaker trying to make a splash with a sonogram bill.
Patrick’s bill, SB 16, passed the Senate committee 7-1 and could be hitting the Senate floor for a vote sometime next week. It would require a doctor to verbally explain what’s seen in a sonogram to a patient at least 24 hours before performing an abortion. It would also require doctors to give women the option of seeing the sonogram and hearing the fetal heartbeat. Patrick says the measure is all about informed consent, though he hasn’t hidden his hope that it could cut down on the number of abortions in Texas by changing the minds of any mothers-to-be.
Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, penned the companion bill, HB 201, in the House, where some form of a sonogram bill is expected to pass, especially with more than 60 co-authors signed on so far. Such legislation was unsuccessful in previous sessions. However, with a historic GOP majority at the Capitol, this might be the year it becomes law.
While it’s generally understood Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has given his blessing to the aforementioned version, others are popping up in the House, begging the question about bogging down an almost sure thing.
The latest – on Friday, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, filed HB 15, which would require a doctor to perform a sonogram at least 24 hours before performing an abortion. Again, the doctor would have to explain what’s on the sonogram to the patient and make the image and audio available to her. Representatives Callegari, Geren, Kolkhorst and Patrick have signed on as co-authors.
“(It) will protect human life – the lives of the unborn victims of abortion, as well as those who are faced with such a life changing decision,” said Miller. “By providing women with a full 24-hour waiting period, our bill will provide expectant mothers with adequate time to review their sonogram and to carefully weigh the impact of their life-changing decision without undue pressure or influence from abortion providers or others.”
Critics are sure to blast Miller’s bill for the same reasons they did Patrick’s. Some say it wrongly interferes with the relationship between a doctor and a patient. Others say it’s forcing a woman into making another decision, possibly even adding further emotional trauma to the situation.
It’s not a new argument. Beyond previous sessions, several similar bills are already stacking up in the current one. For instance, in November, Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, filed a bill, HB 325, that would require women to undergo an ultrasound right before an abortion is scheduled to be done. Smith’s version allows women to refuse to see the sonogram but doesn’t give them the option to hear the heartbeat or explanation of the sonogram. It also says patients can’t have any sedatives or anesthesia before the ultrasound.
All of the bills make exceptions to the sonogram rule. Smith and Miller’s both take into consideration cases where the mother’s life is endangered or for medical emergencies. Patrick’s bill also allows a patient to opt out of all the doctor requirements if they’re victims of sexual assault, incest, or women carrying a fetus with abnormalities.
Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said Patrick’s version is likely to pass through the Senate and the House, though the other versions could end up supplementing that bill.
“It’s just about the language at that point when it gets to the House committee,” Pojman said. “Those other bills will probably help amend, change, and improve the Senate bill.”
If and when the House passes a sonogram bill (assuming the Senate makes the first move) – and if it has any differences from the original version – the bill will get kicked back to the Senate for a vote. If that doesn’t pass muster, a conference committee between the two chambers will hammer out a final version for a majority vote on each side.