[Updated} Senate Passes Sonogram Bill For the Second Time This Session

Updated May 4, 9:28 a.m. Rep. Sid Miller, House sponsor of the sonogram bill, announced Wednesday morning he accepts the Senate’s amendments passed on Monday. After one more final vote in the House, the sonogram bill will head to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for his signature. The sonogram bill will be the first emergency item to be signed by the governor this session.

With a 21-10 vote, the Texas Senate tentatively passed the latest version of the pre-abortion sonogram bill, which includes a waiting period carve-out for rural Texas women.

Sound familiar? That’s because the Senate already passed a different sonogram bill off the floor several months ago. But the House refused to pick up that bill and instead passed its own version. After a staring match between the House and Senate, the Senate ultimately picked up the House sonogram bill. 

While this version is technically called House Bill 15, the text the Senate passed looks a whole lot like the version they supported back in February. The legislation, carried by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, requires that prior to receiving an abortion a woman must undergo a sonogram and must hear a detailed description of the fetus’ limbs and organs. There’s also a 24-hour waiting period required between when the woman has the sonogram and the actual abortion. Because doctors already perform pre-abortion sonograms as a matter of practice, the 24-hour waiting period may be one of the most significant measures in terms of actually changing the process through which women get abortions. It also makes the bill one of the most stringent in the country.

“It will be one of the strongest bills in the nation based on informed consent, and hopefully lives can be saved if women decide to change their minds,” Patrick said. “I think that we’re going to improve the medical care for these women…and enhance the doctor-patient relationship.”

Of course, there’s one crucial change—depending on where they live, some women will be exempted from the key 24-hour provision. A carve-out in the bill allows a two-hour waiting period for women who live 100 miles or more from an abortion facility or live in a county with 60,000 or fewer.

Patrick needed the carve-out to get support from Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, to get enough votes to bring up the bill. During the initial debate, Uresti expressed concerns that the 24-hour waiting period required in Patrick’s bill would be too burdensome for rural women – specifically those in his district – who live far from an abortion facility. After weeks of negotiation between the bill’s House sponsor state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, and Uresti, the two-hour deal was struck, as first reported by the Observer. 

State Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, expressed concerns that the Uresti exception was a political move by Patrick to get enough support for the bill. Patrick, however, argued that Uresti’s concerns mirror others.

“This was to accommodate those that have to travel, that would require them to spend overnight or have to drive long distances two days in a row,” Patrick said. “His concern applies to other women around our vast state.”

Davis pressed Patrick on the compromise. “If we’re going to create a carve-out there has to be some rational basis for the carve-out,” she said. “…why don’t we consider a variety of other hardships” rather than just distance.

Then things got personal.

“The purpose is to traumatize women who are considering an abortion procedure into making a decision otherwise,” Davis said accusingly.

“Senator, you know me better than that,” Patrick shot back.

That wasn’t the only fight of the day. Under the bill, abortions that are performed due to medical emergencies related to pregnancy would not require a sonogram. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, tried but ultimately failed to broaden the bill’s medical emergency definition to include emergencies like car accidents or cancer diagnosis. (This definition was extensively debated in the Texas House last month).

Provided the Senate passes the measure on third reading, scheduled for tomorrow, the House will have to sign off on the Senate’s changes before the bill can head to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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Published at 8:23 pm CST
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