After nearly four hours of debate, the Texas Senate passed the infamous sonogram bill with a 21-10 vote. The legislation, which mandates that a physician provide a woman with a sonogram and verbal description of the image prior to an abortion, is now headed to the House where apparently everybody wants a piece (The bill has more than 60 coauthors). State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has carried the bill for the last three sessions and called today “a great day for women.”
“A woman will have more information today than she ever did,” he said.
The bill passed with three amendments, perhaps the most notable by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. His amendment calls for the sonogram two hours prior to the abortion instead of 24 and provides a written consent form letting the woman know that she has an option to see the sonogram image and hear the fetal heartbeat. Women who are victims of rape, incest or know their child has a fetal abnormality can elect not to hear the verbal description of the sonogram.
But besides all the typical legislative rigamorale, the day wasn’t without some entertainment. A staunch opponent of the bill, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, exercised his always-colorful public speaking capabilities by pointing out things that were surely on others’ minds.
“Have you ever held someone’s hand, been their friend or relative before” an abortion, he asked Patrick. “How can you speak for the women of the state if you haven’t had to deal with it on a personal basis?”
The Democrats and some Republicans made the resounding argument that the state’s budget, which is in disarray this session with a $27 billion shortfall, should allocate money to those women who, say, get the sonogram and decide to have their child.
“It’s a darn shame,” Whitmire said. “While we’re in here discussing this, (Senate Finance Committee) is talking about cutting services.” (Ironically, so was the House Appropriations Committee).
For the last three sessions, critics of Patrick’s bill have spoken out against the mandate and worry that the bill infringes on the patient-doctor relationship. Others, like Whitmire, also believe it’s a government intrusion of a woman’s most private decision. But, in acknowledging the tape-recorder-sounding message of “lean government” being forced down our throats this session, perhaps state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said it best.
“Once that baby’s born, oh no, we don’t want government intrusion,” she said. “Texas is going to shrink government until it fits into a woman’s uterus.”
Despite arguments, Patrick insisted the bill would empower women, and at one point he even hinted there might’ve been a higher power involved. As he was answering a question, a baby let out a cry from the gallery, a cry that Patrick compared to a message from God.
“This is God’s time to pass the bill,” he said. The baby “is saying pass this bill.”
Higher power or not, it’s now the House’s turn to take up the sonogram bill, which is filed as HB 201 authored by state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria. The legislation has died in the House for the last two sessions, but thanks to the overwhelming Republican majority this time around, Patrick has high hopes the bill will fly through. But, as Whitmire pointed out early in the day, the version passed in the Senate may be significantly different than the version that comes out of the House.
“That’s a pretty hard-headed bunch of folks, they have a lot of new members,” he said. “I’m dismayed at the Tea Party language and conservative rhetoric in this building” and that “we’re willing to pass a bill that takes a huge government intrusion into people’s private lives.”