A Good Excuse to Grandstand

The usual anti-abortion bills sally forth

Rep. Donna Howard
Rep. Donna Howard (Photo by John Anderson)

The perennial battle over pending abortion-related legislation hit the House State Affairs Committee last week, with lawmakers hearing passionate testimony (mainly from abortion foes) on a bill that would require women to undergo ultrasound prior to having an abortion.

House Bill 36 by Rep. Frank "the Fetus" Corte, R-San Antonio (carried in the Senate by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston), requires women seeking abortion to undergo an ultrasound at least two hours before terminating a pregnancy. Supporters of the bill have argued variously that because many abortion providers already conduct an ultrasound prior to the procedure to determine gestational age, the measure would not pose a burden. Further, they argue, by allowing a woman to see an ultrasound and to hear a fetal heartbeat, as the bill proposes, women will have a chance to fully grasp their situation and, presumably, decide to continue the pregnancy. Several women testified that they were psychologically scarred by past abortions and were either kept from seeing an ultrasound image of their fetus or were not given an ultrasound. One woman dramatically told the committee she is now only raising two of her three kids; she aborted the first "because [she] was not shown what was inside" her body.

Opponents argue the bill is coercive in nature. Mandating women undergo an invasive procedure that may not be medically necessary gives the state the power to usurp patient-doctor confidentiality and decision-making, they say. And the measure might place a financial burden on women – there are not that many groups that offer free ultrasound, meaning some women may have to pay out-of-pocket for a procedure they don't want. Indeed, if it is not medically necessary, it's unlikely that women who do have insurance could have the procedure covered by their health plans.

A lobbyist for the Texas Medical Assoc­i­a­tion and the state's association of ob-gyn doctors made similar arguments in testifying against the bill. Their testimony was met with grandstanding comments by Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, who is not a member of the committee but nonetheless interjected his opinions, which were clearly designed to elicit rounds of applause from the bill's supporters. Indeed, in response to the argument that an ultrasound may not be medically necessary, Weber piped in to say that if a woman thinks the ultrasound is invasive and unnecessary, what "do you think the baby thinks [about abortion]? In many cases, the abortion could be termed a medical procedure that is not necessary."

Calculated zingers aside, it is unclear whether the measure will make it out of committee. (It passed out of committee last session but died on the House floor.) Interestingly, aside from committee Chair Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, not many of the 14 other members showed up or stayed on the dais for the entire hearing. Some sources say that suggests lawmakers do not consider the measure among the body's priorities for the session.

Lawmakers also considered a measure that would direct abortion providers to make detailed information about their clients available to the state for "statistical analysis." Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, has again authored legislation (HB 3796) requiring women to certify they're not being coerced into abortion and mandating abortion providers to collect additional information about their clients to submit to the state for analysis. The bill would ask for detailed personal information – including the age of the father of the unborn child and the specific reason the woman is having an abortion. As it did last time, the bill has earned concern from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who question whether the privacy of women and their doctors could be jeopardized by the release of such extensive information.

Both bills were left pending in committee.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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abortion, 81st Legislature, reproductive rights, HB 3796, HB 36, Frank Corte, Geanie Morrison

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