As State Abortion Fights Intensify, Texas Moves to Adopt Sonogram Bill

AUSTIN -- Back in January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that, along with a budget amendment and legislation to protect private property rights, he was also adding the so-called "sonogram bill" to a list of emergency items for the state's 82nd legislative session.

The controversial bill requires a woman seeking an abortion to allow a doctor to perform a sonogram, display "real time" images of the fetus and provide an explanation of those images -- including the "presence of arms, legs, external members and internal organs" -- then play a recording of a heartbeat, if there is one, and offer a list of agencies that offer alternatives to abortion. All of this would have to happen at least 24 hours before the procedure.

On Monday, that bill passed the floor of the Texas House of Representatives and headed for the Senate where, if it gets two thirds of the vote, it will become law and take immediate effect once Perry adds his signature, as he has pledged to do.

The Texas Senate has already approved a less-strict version of the sonogram bill, and while its sponsor, Sen. Dan Patrick, has said he won't accept the House version, its biggest difference is that it requires a two-hour waiting period before an abortion is carried out, rather than 24. Patrick's version also makes exceptions for women who are victims of incest or rape. A House-Senate conference committee would have to hammer out a compromise, but the feud isn't likely to delay its journey to the governor's desk for long.

The sonogram bill in Texas is part of a nationwide push by Republicans and conservative activists since the fall to restrict abortion rights, and is one of the most aggressive and successful recent moves at the state level.

In Ohio, Republicans have proposed to outlaw abortion after the first heartbeat is detected. In Idaho, the party wants legislation to stop health-insurance companies from covering abortion. In South Dakota, which does not even have any abortion providers based in the state, a bill was introduced which would require women seeking an abortion to face a three-day waiting period and attend counseling sessions designed to discourage them from going through with the procedure.

South Dakota is the same state that made news recently for considering a law aiming to expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings intended to prevent harm to a fetus -- which meant that it could become legal to murder doctors who perform abortions. That bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, would also have forced the doctor carrying out the procedure to inform the woman "that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," that she "has an existing relationship with that unborn human being," of the "statistically significant risk factors" including depression and suicide, and the "probable gestational age of the unborn child."

The South Dakota legislature decided to shelve that one indefinitely in February.

Currently Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi mandate that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound and offer a woman the opportunity to view the image before performing an abortion. Two other states -- Arizona and Florida -- require an ultrasound on each woman obtaining an abortion after her first trimester, and that providers offer her the opportunity to view the image.

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Alex Hannaford is a writer based in the U.K. His work has appeared in The Guardian, GQ, and The Texas Observer.

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