AUSTIN, Texas (BP)--A bill requiring most women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram at least 24 hours prior to the procedure and to hear a description of the baby's physical features has passed both chambers of the Texas Legislature and awaits the promised signature of Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
House Bill 15 would give a woman the option of seeing her unborn baby and would require a physician or certified sonographer to describe the dimensions of the baby and the existence of the baby's arms, legs, and internal organs, including a heartbeat, during the sonogram.
Women in counties with fewer than 60,000 people or beyond 100 miles of an abortion facility and those in a life-threatening "medical emergency" would be exempt from the 24-hour waiting period.
Also, in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality, women could refuse hearing the verbal description from the sonogram.
In January at the start of the legislative session, Perry placed the bill on emergency status, giving it priority consideration over other bills.
Rep. Sid Miller, R.-Stephenville, was the chief sponsor of the House version, while state Sen. Dan Patrick, R.-Houston, sponsored the Senate version. The Senate passed the bill on a third reading, 21-10, on May 3. On May 5, the House passed it, 94-41.
A few pro-life groups had criticized the bill as not stringent enough, Patrick told the Southern Baptist TEXAN in April, but it got support from Texas Right to Life, Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute.
It was roundly opposed by abortion rights groups, who claim it violates doctor-patient privacy. The Texas Medical Association, for example, argued it not only "sets a dangerous precedent of legislation prescribing the details of the practice of medicine, but it also clearly mandates that physicians practice in a manner inconsistent with medical ethics."
But Miller, the House sponsor, told reporters: "House Bill 15 will protect human life, the lives of the unborn victims of abortion, as well as those facing life-changing decisions.... This legislation will save numerous unborn lives."
After it passed the Texas Senate on May 3, Gov. Perry said in a statement: "The Texas Senate has taken admirable action today by passing this significant sonogram legislation, and I want to thank Rep. Sid Miller and Sen. Dan Patrick for their work on this issue. 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."
A similar bill that passed in Oklahoma last year remains in limbo, awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York City.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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