AUSTIN -- As Texas senators gave final approval Tuesday to a bill requiring doctors to conduct sonograms before performing abortions, moving it closer to the governor's desk, a new fight is ramping up over another abortion-related bill.
The new fight is over a bill that renews the Texas Women's Health Program, which many say provides crucial screenings and birth control to women who don't have insurance, but prevents Planned Parenthood -- a family-planning organization under fire by abortion opponents because of its separate affiliate that provides abortions -- from participating.
Gov. Rick Perry praised senators on Tuesday for passing the sonogram bill.
"Ensuring Texans have access to all the information when making such an important decision is a critical step in our efforts to protect life, and I look forward to this legislation reaching my desk very soon," Perry said.
Critics say there are some bad bills for women moving through the Legislature this year.
"It's a terrible session for women and children, particularly if you are poor," said Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
The legislation would require doctors to perform a sonogram and describe the organs and limbs a fetus has to any woman seeking an abortion and then wait 24 hours for the procedure. Doctors regularly perform sonograms to determine the size and development of a fetus before performing an abortion. The bill heads to the House for final approval, the last step before Perry's desk.
There was little debate Tuesday after preliminary approval came earlier this week, just one brief exchange between Davis and sponsor Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Davis had fought to add a measure that lets women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion facility to have an abortion on the same day as the sonogram. Patrick added an amendment defining abortion providers as a facility that performs 50 or more abortions a year.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was among those praising senators for passing "this historic, life-protecting bill" that he said will "empower women."North Texas Republicans supported the measure.
"I believe that women will understand [with this bill] that if they choose to have an abortion, that is indeed a life," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
"I think a woman needs all the information she can get before she makes such a harsh decision," said Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington.
Davis said the bill does not help women, but rather "is intended to traumatize a woman who is already under severe trauma in making the decision that she's made. It's cloaked under the guise of informing women ... but the intent is to torture women psychologically."
The Senate Health and Human Services subcommittee approved a bill Tuesday to continue a women's health program estimated to reach about 100,000 women.
But the bill by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, includes a measure that requires the program to be shut down if a clinic such as Planned Parenthood sues the state and is allowed to participate in the program.
Planned Parenthood officials, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, issued a statement to the committee, saying they plan to sue if this measure becomes law.
"Obviously this detrimentally impacts lower-income women," Davis said. "It's like they don't matter in this Capitol [because] they don't have lobby dollars to spend."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610