'Trust Me, I'm a Senator'

Patrick and Shapiro back abortion-related bills giving state more space in the exam room

Broadcaster Patrick and
Broadcaster Patrick and "Former Small Business Owner" Shapiro: Nurse, the screens!

Texas Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, made moves Thursday to have their colleagues approve two measures that would allow state government new and greater access to medical decisions made between a woman and her doctor.

First up, Patrick successfully amended his abortion-related ultrasound bill in an effort to move it off the Senate floor. As it stands, Senate Bill 182 would require a doctor to provide a pregnant patient an opportunity to have an ultrasound, see the ultrasound, have the ultrasound described to her, and listen to a fetal heartbeat. The measure is a semi-toned-down version of the introduced bill, which would have required women to undergo the ultrasound procedure whether or not it is medically-necessary (Rep. Frank "the Fetus" Corte has a version of this bill in the House).

But Patrick's bill (begins page 1862) appears also to change existing law, to require a doctor to describe the stages of fetal development to a woman seeking abortion. The subtle change drew some ire from senators who suggest that Patrick's bill has little to do with ensuring women have access to medically accurate information.

Ostensibly, Patrick's bill is about "informed consent" -- a way to make sure that women have as much information as possible before deciding to abort, but which also implies that women are either too addled or too whimsical to grasp the gravity of such a decision. The less onerous language proposed by Patrick on Thursday afternoon prompted several members to applaud Patrick for his good work -- including Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, who rose for a spot of grandstanding about how the measure was an important part of creating a culture of being "Pro Lifetime," supporting "life" from cradle to the grave – and earned the support of 20 members who voted in favor of the retooled measure.

Other members weren't as fawning. Austin Dem Sen. Kirk Watson noted that the measure was not drafted with the input of any medical professionals – including from the Texas Medical Association, which opposes the measure. And Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, wasn't at all impressed with Patrick's feel-good assurance that the measure is really just about helping women make best decisions. She pressed Patrick about details of the bill, including a portion that appears to require doctors to describe the phases of fetal development to a pregnant woman prior to performing the abortion. The current informed consent law, passed in 2003, requires doctors to provide the so-called Woman's Right to Know pamphlet, which describes fetal development and the alleged risks associated with abortion. Patrick's new language removes the provision that requires doctors to inform a woman of "her opportunity to review the information" contained in the WRTK pamphlet, instead requiring that the doctor provide and explain the information.

In response to a question previously posed by Watson, Patrick asserted that he hadn't changed any language related to the WRTK materials, and when Davis subsequently directed him to the specific change in the bill text, Patrick danced around the issue by suggesting that he didn't have time to haggle over details. "I can't address every issue that you want to bring up," he said. "But that's what we do here," Davis responded.

Or so we thought.

In the end, Patrick asserted that he has no "sinister motives" and is not trying to do anything other than "shed light on this time that [a woman is] with her doctor, so that she's informed." Davis was not impressed: "I believe its [about] a great deal more," she said. "I believe its about shaming a woman who is making a terrifically and tremendously difficult" decision.

Indeed, though, if the bill is just about information, then certainly Patrick would be interested in correcting a bit of misinformation in the WRTK pamphlet, right? Well, maybe. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, suggested an amendment to Patrick's bill that would remove a portion of the pamphlet that informs women that abortion has been linked to breast cancer. In fact, abortion is not related to breast cancer – or at least that's the assessment of numerous medical professionals, including the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. According to a breast cancer fact sheet, the link between abortion and cancer is among the "misunderstandings" about breast cancer risk factors (as are the notion that "bumping or bruising" breast tissue or "wearing an underwire bra" causes breast cancer). Patrick said he needed time to review the facts of the situation and would get back to Shapleigh on whether he would agree to the amendment.

As of 9am, Patrick had not yet weighed in on the matter.

Also late yesterday, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, asked members permission to introduce a new version of last session's abortion-reporting bill. The measure (SB 2571) would require doctors to collect a litany of private information about women seeking abortion services – including requiring a woman to sign a statement saying she is not being "coerced" into having an abortion, and requiring her to reveal the age of the father and the specific reason she is seeking the abortion. (Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, is carrying a version in the House.)

According to Shapiro, the bill is necessary because the state has "no data" related to abortion, only "anecdotal" information, she told colleagues yesterday. Unfortunately, that simply is not true. Currently, abortion providers are required to provide a host of information to the Dept. of State Health Services, including the age and race of the client, the client's county and state of residence, the type of abortion procedure performed, whether the client is married, and the number of previous live births and/or abortions.

The measure passed through the Senate last session before dying in the House. Whether Shapiro will get the support she needs to move the bill this year remains to be seen. Regardless, it is unclear whether the measure would get through the House where members on both sides of the aisle have expressed serious concerns about patient privacy.

Both measures are expected to come up again today on the Senate floor for further consideration.

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