Texas State House Committee Passes Abortion-Ultrasound Bill

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 24, 2011   |   12:19PM   |   Austin, TX

A Texas state House committee on Wednesday approved a bill similar to one the state Senate has already approved that would allow women considering an abortion a chance to see an ultrasound of their unborn child beforehand.

When used in pregnancy centers, ultrasounds have convinced 80 percent or more women to keep their baby as opposed to having an abortion.

Rep. Sid Miller, a Republican from Stephenville who is the author of the House measure, told members of the State Affairs Committee the bill “is about informed consent,” saying,  “We want to make sure the best information is available to women.”

Democrats like Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston panned the bill and said the legislature should not be tackling the issue of abortion when the economy and jobs are what are on the minds of voters.

The committee ultimately voted for the measure 9-3 with all of the Republicans voting for the bill and all of the Democrats voting against it. HB 15, which pro-life groups support, may be debated on the House floor as early as next week.

Under the House bill, women would get a chance to see an ultrasound 24 hours before the abortion and she can decline to view the sonogram, hear a detailed description of fetal development, or listen to the heartbeat of her unborn child. Abortion centers would be required to make these options available to her and give her a chance to sign a waiver saying they did so, which is not normally the case without the legislation.

The Dallas News indicated Dr. Mikeal Love, an Austin obstetrician-gynecologist, testified before the State Affairs Committee that the bill will “improve the quality of care” by making sure a woman has a chance to get more information from a medical professional before making the abortion decision.

“By using an ultrasound, you have a real-time picture that transcends educational levels, language barriers and cultural differences that may exist,” Love said.

But Kelly Hart, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of North Texas opposed the idea.

After the vote, Texas Alliance for Life said the House bill “joins SB 16 as the second sonogram bill in play. Thanks to the dedication of pro-life Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), the bill’s author, the full Senate approved SB 16 last week, also very early in the session.”

“After four hours of incredibly moving and compelling pro-life testimony, the Texas House State Affairs Committee voted out HB 15, a strong sonogram bill,” the group said. “Kudos to committee Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) for hearing a pro-life bill so early in the session. It may be the very first bill to have been voted out of committee in the House.”

The state Senate voted 21-10 to approve the bill introduce on its side. The bill, passed by the Senate State Affairs Committee 7-2 earlier this month, requires an ultrasound be performed 24 hours before an abortion. The mother must be presented with a sonogram and an audible fetal heartbeat, if detectable, which she can refuse to see or hear. Even if she did, doctors would still have to orally describe the development of the unborn child at the time.

Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick is the main sponsor of the legislation, which enjoys support from pro-life Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The measure received approval from the state Senate in 2009 but eventually died in the state House as Speaker Joe Strauss was accused of not pushing the bill before time expired on the legislative session.

Patrick opened debate saying the bill is necessary to provide the mother considering an abortion with the information she needs to make a decision. He also rebuffed concerns from the Texas Medical Association which said the measure would somehow intrude on the doctor-patient relationship even though women getting abortions have never met the abortion practitioner before.

“This is the only medical procedure that the goal ends in death. There is no patient relationship between that baby and the doctor,” Patrick said.

Passage comes after Texas Governor Rick Perry said he would grant emergency status to the legislation. Perry announced the fast track status last month during his speech at the March for Life in Austin.

“It’s pretty hard to imagine people of good conscience sitting idly by through this, and in Texas we haven’t,” he said, saying the Supreme Court decision to allow virtually unlimited abortions, Roe v. Wade, is a “tragedy.”

Patrick said too many women are denied information about fetal development because abortion providers “don’t want them to see the sonogram.”

Teresa Sadler, 35, said that while she was a 19-year-old college student in Denton, she had an abortion where her provider turned the sonogram screen away and tried to prevent her from seeing it.

“I was told immediately to lie back down on the table,” she said. A drug was administered and the abortion was completed when she woke up. She said she never saw a doctor.

“I take responsibility for my decision,” said Sadler, who is now a nurse. But she said if she had the chance to see a sonogram and better informed, “I might have made a different decision.”