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After 7 Hours, Texas House Passes Strict Sonogram Bill

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The highlight of the Texas House’s seven-hour debate over a sonogram bill on Thursday might have been a Democratic amendment requiring some men to get a vasectomy. Though it got a few laughs, the vasectomy amendment and 34 others didn’t do anything to change the outcome of this session’s first marathon debate.

The Texas House tentatively passed the contentious pre-abortion sonogram bill with a 103-42 vote, striking down all but one amendment brought forth by House Democrats. House Bill 15 requires a physician to provide a woman seeking an abortion with a sonogram, and gives her an opportunity to see the image, get a verbal description of the fetus and hear a heartbeat. The legislation would be one of the strictist sonogram laws in the nation. It provides no exemptions for rape or incest victims and calls for the revocation of a physician’s medical license should he or she violate the statute.

The Democrats fought the measure with a landslide of amendments, both practical and symbolic. But the bill’s author state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, was unrelenting. He repeatedly insisted that the bill creates, rather than interferes with, a doctor-patient relationship and provides women with more information.

State Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, were just some that led the long but unsuccessful fight against Miller’s bill. Farrar grilled Miller on the bill’s intent, arguing that the legislation is nothing but a manipulation tactic.

“The intent of bill is not to further information but to coerce a woman into not having an abortion,” she continuously urged. “If the state really values life, it should put its money where its mouth is.”

Democratic state Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston, fought for an exemption for victims of rape and incest, while Anchia and Lucio focused on clarifying the bill’s medical emergency definition. Anchia worked to broaden it to include non-pregnancy related emergencies.

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, kicked off the presumably tongue-in-cheek amendments for the evening, trying to drive home the longstanding argument that the state budget and its programs should help support a woman and her child should she decide against the abortion. He called for the state to fund healthcare and college tuition for a child whose mother, upon seeing the sonogram, decided to have her child.

“If we’re going to encourage a woman to have a child, we ought to recognize the obligation of that child,” he said. “I think the responsibility of the state begins when that child is born, it doesn’t end when that child is born.”

Then came the funny but failed vasectomy amendment. State Reps. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, and Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, proposed requiring a mandatory vasectomy for the father of an abortion-seeking woman’s child who is not married to her, or has fathered at least two children outside of marriage.

“If you believe the government should be making medical mandates, let’s divide the responsibility equally,” Gonzalez said.

Castro, who filed five amendments, was able to push one through that provides a woman with paternity and child support information at the clinic where she gets her sonogram.

The House version of the bill proves to be the strongest piece of pre-abortion sonogram legislation this session. Miller’s bill invokes severe punishment on physicians should they violate the bill and requires a 24-hour waiting period between sonogram and abortion—both provisions are stricter than the Senate version passed last month.

Thursday’s marathon debate, which lasted past 9 p.m., mirrors the late nights that come at the end of the session, but Castro pointed out that the House might go through this with every designated emergency item. And if tonight’s party-line votes were any kind of indication, the Republicans will continue to toss aside any Democratic move, no matter how long it takes.