Pre-abortion sonograms among issues up for debate
Congress and the Texas Legislature are taking up measure affecting women's health.
UPDATE: The Texas Senate has passed a bill that would require doctors to conduct a sonogram before performing an abortion and to describe whether the fetus has arms, legs or internal organs.
THE EARLIER STAR-TELEGRAM STORY APPEARS BELOW:
A Texas proposal sparking national controversy because it would require women to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before an abortion is expected to be debated by the Texas Senate as soon as today.
While some Democrats are expected to try to stall or stop the debate, the Republican-led chamber is expected to take up the bill. It would require a doctor to describe limb and fetal development during the sonogram and give the woman a chance to hear the fetus's heartbeat.
The bill's author, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, maintains that the legislation is geared to empower women.
"The bill will provide a high level of informed consent," he said this month after a committee approved the measure. "It will ensure there are no barriers preventing women from receiving the information to which they are entitled for such a life-changing decision."
Critics say the measure could intimidate some women into not having the abortions they seek.
"Having a sonogram so you can see the fetus is the antithesis of what I hear Republicans spouting out, that government should not regulate our lives," said Steve Maxwell, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. "Why are we not focusing our energies on how we are going to educate our children ... instead of focusing on stupid things like sonograms and voter ID?"
Meanwhile, a nationwide debate is heating up over the decades-old Title X program, which provides health services to low-income people. President Barack Obama has proposed allocating $317 million to the program, while some Republicans propose cutting all funding for the rest of the fiscal year.
The sonogram measure, which has failed in previous legislative sessions, was designated an emergency by Gov. Rick Perry, allowing it to be addressed before most others.
"This is to give women more information," said Kyleen Wright, president of the Arlington-based Texans for Life Coalition. "There are a significant number of women who deeply regret [abortions].
"This is about making sure women have all the information available to them. They can study the information ... before they make a forever decision. It's very pro-woman."
The required 24-hour time frame would likely prevent some women from getting an abortion, said Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Texas.
"Many are coming from hundreds of miles away for a choice they've thought long and hard about," he said. "To require a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure, it creates a delay. Planned Parenthood already provides sonograms before the procedure.
"Legislators are trying to use this as a political tool. This is about creating barriers to access."
Planned Parenthood officials say many of their services to low-income people would be affected by a drop in Title X funding, such as cancer screenings, testing and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and birth control. Some critics say tax dollars shouldn't go to Planned Parenthood, citing secretly recorded videos that appear to show clinic workers advising a man posing as a sex trafficker.
"It's important if we're going to spend that money, particularly when we are broke, that it goes to reputable agencies," Wright said. "We have other places that can and do provide those services. If there aren't enough, other agencies can pick that up."
But Lambrecht said that in Texas, the Planned Parenthood organization that receives Title X money is separate from the one that provides abortions.
Locally, Planned Parenthood of North Texas, which receives Title X money and provides birth control, preventive care and testing, helped about 36,000 women last year, he said.
Planned Parenthood Surgical Health Services, a separate entity, doesn't receive the federal funds and does provide abortions, Lambrecht said.
Without the federal funding, Lambrecht said, "the poorest of the poor women in our community won't have access to basic lifesaving breast and cervical screenings, Pap smears, breast screenings, birth control, testing" for sexually transmitted diseases and more.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610