The GOP-dominated Texas House spent Thursday afternoon and evening swatting aside Democratic opposition to pre-abortion sonogram legislation, approving House Bill 15 by state Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) and shooting down Democrat-proposed amendments on mainly party line votes. The debate lasted until past 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Several unsuccessful amendments proposed by Democrats during hours of floor debate contained provisions for women to opt out of the sonograms or receiving the information — including in cases involving sexual assault, incest or irreversible fetal irregularities. Miller said the bill mandates that physicians perform the sonograms but does not force women to view the sonogram image, hear the explanation or hear the amplified fetal heartbeat if present.
The GOP’s advantage in the Texas House is 101-49. The bill was approved by a margin of 103-42.
State Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) said that of the 20 states that have passed pre-abortion sonogram legislation, only Oklahoma’s was completely mandatory. That state’s law is still bound up in court, he said.
Miller did file a ‘severability’ amendment to the legislation, so that if a court struck down a portion of the law the rest would stand. An amendment by state Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) expanded on the severability clause.
Illustrating her points with a sonogram transducer, state Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) said, “This is government intrusion at an all-time high. Instead of making probing a priority of this session, we ought to be probing on how we fix our $26 billion budget deficit.”
Violating the terms of Miller’s legislation would result in an automatic revocation of the physician’s license. If a woman chose not to sign the affidavit, then the doctor would be acting on his/her own peril by electing to still perform the abortion, Miller said.
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) said she thinks the legislation is a “tactic to try to frighten the woman into not having the procedure, as though she already didn’t have the mental capacity to make the decision.”
“I respectfully disagree. Thank you for your comments,” Miller said.
The required affidavit spelled out in HB 15 does not contain an option for women to say they refused to view the sonogram. However, Miller repeatedly referred to a section the bill titled, “Receiving Information During Sonogram,” which says:”The physician and the pregnant woman are not subject to a penalty under this subchapter solely because the pregnant woman chooses not to receive the information required to be provided.”
The only explicit exemption to Miller’s legislation is in case of “medical emergency.” Led by state Reps. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), Democrats disputed the definition of “medical emergency” offered in the bill.
Anchia argued that the current bill’s current bill’s definition of an emergency, a “life-threatening physical condition caused by or arising from a pregnancy,” would not include other emergencies necessitating an abortion, such as a pregnant woman being in a car wreck, or being assaulted.
The Senate’s version of the sonogram bill (which has already cleared the Senate) by state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), defines an emergency more broadly, referring to a condition that “complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman.”
In both bills, the “medical emergency” would mean that if the abortion were not performed, then in the doctor’s opinion the woman could die or risk significant impairment of a major bodily function.
A late floor amendment by state Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R-Dallas) tweaked HB 15′s definition to include conditions “aggravated by, caused by or arising from a pregnancy.”
The term “medical emergency” appears in Texas statute more than two dozen times, and providing a new definition for the term in the sonogram bill could cause conflicts and confusion, Democrats said.
Martinez Fischer raised points of order concerning the bill analysis and the definition of “medical emergency,” saying the analysis was misleading, and the new definition of “medical emergency” could create constitutionally problematic conflicts.
After a delay, House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ruled that the analysis wasn’t misleading, and refrained from ruling on the constitutional point.
Miller said his definition of “medical emergency” is meant to encompass all situations where the mother’s life is at stake unless the abortion is performed. When asked to explain how his definition doesn’t exclude situations not directly arising from the pregnancy, Miller said he was operating under the advice of legal counsel.
“I appreciate the advice of legal counsel,” said state Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville). “Many people have lost millions of dollars because of advice from legal counsel.”
During floor debate, Miller repeatedly praised crisis pregnancy resource centers, saying they are “a real asset to our community.” The centers, often faith-based and nonprofit, offer free sonograms and counseling to pregnant women with the goal of reducing abortions — and typically do not offer medical services.
Recently, the New York City Council passed a bill requiring the centers to inform clients whether they offer abortions, birth control or prenatal care. The City of Austin passed a similar ordinance in April, and a regulation passed by the City of Baltimore is being fought in court.
Miller’s bill would force doctors to provide pregnant women seeking abortions with a list of nonprofit entities that provide free sonograms, such as pregnancy centers.
However, Miller also said that the abortion provider would probably not accept the results of a free sonogram from the pregnancy center, so the free sonograms would not meet the requirements of the bill.
When asked why he included the free sonogram information in his legislation, Miller said it’s so that “if she wants to have a free sonogram before she makes her final decision. It’s not mandatory.”
Miller’s bill states the sonogram would have to be performed within 24-72 hours before the abortion. Patrick’s bill states the sonogram would have to be performed more than two hours before the abortion.
State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) proposed several amendments for the state to promise to help take care of each child born as a result of a woman changing her mind about having the abortion, due to the requirements of the bill.
Republicans voted down Dutton’s proposals for the state to promise to pay for four years of college for the children, to pay for the child’s health care until age 18, and to pay for the child’s health care until age 6. They also voted down an amendment by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo) to rename one of Dutton’s proprosals the “Texas Pro-Life Health Program.”
“If we want to make sure every child is born, we should make sure every child ought to have a chance,” said Dutton, citing his Catholic faith.
An amendment proposed by state Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) would have had the state pay for the sonograms. Miller said a sonogram typically costs about $100, and the total cost of the amendment — which was voted down — would be $800,000.
State Rep. Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso) offered an amendment that would have allowed pregnant women, who chose to not get an abortion, to apply for a court order requiring the father of the child to undergo a vasectomy, if the pregnancy occurred outside of marriage and the father previously had two or more children outside of marriage with two or more women.
State Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) asked Marquez if it was her intent to insert a “severability clause” in the bill.
Miller opposed the amendment, saying lawmakers had already been receiving concerns from constituents about budget reductions. “I’m going to have to draw the line and say no more cuts,” he said.
The House voted the amendment down along party lines. However, the House did approve an amendment by Castro to provide women with information related to the Attorney General, paternity determination and child support.
The House companion to Patrick’s Senate Bill, HB 201 by state Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), is still pending in House committee. Identical bill HB 580 by state Rep. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) has also been filed.
Patrick has also filed duplicate SB 130.