Texas Republicans Disagree Over Abortion Bill Amendments

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Texas lawmakers are at an impasse over a controversial abortion bill.

The Texas House passed a bill last Monday requiring physicians to provide a woman seeking an abortion with a sonogram and live audio of the fetal heartbeat at least 24 hours before her procedure, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

A less stringent version of this bill, authored by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was passed in the state Senate in February. Amendments include an exception for rape and incest victims and a two-hour waiting period before women have the abortion, rather than 24 hours.

But Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, who authored House Bill 15, said negotiations to smooth out a single version of this bill with Patrick may prevent it from reaching Gov. Rick Perry's desk before June 19th, the last day for the governor to sign or veto bills passed during the regular legislative session.

"We may not ever work them out," Miller told ABCNew.com. "We had a test vote on the Senate bill in the House and it failed by 113 votes. It's obvious to me my fellow colleagues don't like the Senate bill, so we may not pass anything."

Both bills are only halfway through the legislative process and each has primary sticking points. According to Patrick, Senate Bill 16's exception for rape and incest is a "non-negotiable item for the Senators."

Currently, women in Texas who get abortions are not required to view or hear sonograms of their unborn child.

In Texas, House Republicans, who have a supermajority, supported HB 15 with a landslide of votes, 107-42. Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchia, who voted against it, admitted last Tuesday, "It was a lonely, difficult place to be last week on the House floor."

According to HB 15, the woman may sign an affidavit exempting her from viewing or hearing the sonogram, but the physician would still be required to verbally describe the sonogram, including "the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members, and internal organs."

Republicans Introduce Abortion Legislation Across the Nation

It is the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to enact legislation curbing abortion.

South Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugaard said that he will likely sign off on a new abortion law requiring women to wait 72 hours before they could go through with the procedure, regardless of Planned Parenthood's intent to sue the state if he does so.

Likewise, Republicans in Ohio have proposed legislation to outlaw the procedure in that state after the first detectable fetal heartbeat.

In Idaho, Republicans are trying to move legislation that bans state insurers from including abortions in their medical coverage.

According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, which works to advance sexual and reproductive health worldwide, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana currently all require that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on each woman seeking an abortion, and require the provider to offer the woman the opportunity to view the image.

"Basically, my bill would be informed consent," said HB 15 author Miller. "Women were not being afforded the ability to see the sonogram. Even women who requested to view it were denied."

Perry, who fast-tracked the bill by granting it emergency status during this legislative session, told the media last Monday, "I commend the Texas House for passing this legislation, which bolsters our efforts to protect life by ensuring Texans are fully informed when considering such an important decision."

Planned Parenthood Rallies in Austin

Critics in Texas say that state legislators are overstepping their roles and interfering with the private relationships that physicians have with their patients.

A day after the House bill was passed, hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters from across the state of Texas hoisted bright pink signs to rally against the sonogram bill. Speakers included Democrats from the state House and Senate, as well as Sarah Weddington, the prosecutor for the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, which legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy in the U.S.

"We have concerns about both bills, about the nature of elected officials dictating exactly how physicians should practice medicine," said Sarah Wheat from Planned Parenthood in Austin.

UT graduate student Ellen Warren attended the rally to support Planned Parenthood's many services and to protest against what she calls the Republican Party's criminal overstepping against women's rights.

"Forcing well-intentioned doctors to describe a sonogram of a woman's fetus is not only wrong but adds to the emotional and mental pain women face while going through such a difficult decision," Warren said.

Joe Pojman, Executive Director of the Texas Alliance for Life, said that while Texas Alliance supports both bills, he believes that the House version goes further to reach the goal of fully informed consent for women.

"Women considering abortion deserve the right to fully informed consent. That should include a consulting session with the physician who will perform the abortion in a private setting at least 24 hours before the abortion," Pojman said. "That should also include a sonogram at least 24 hours before the abortion, and the right to see the sonogram image of the unborn child and to hear the heartbeat."

But Miller said that his bill prevents the real emotional duress that can arises when women are not afforded the opportunity to view a sonogram before an abortion.

"I'll tell you where the emotional distress occurs. It occurs later, after the procedure is done and the woman actually sees a sonogram approximately the same age as her unborn child. Then the woman has emotional regrets," Miller said.

Sonogram Costs

While the Senate version of the bill now requires the patient to pay non-refundable fees for both the sonogram as well as the abortion, regardless of whether or not she opted out of the sonogram viewing, the House version would not.

Patrick said women have testified in the committee hearings that their abortion in Texas is preceded by a sonogram and that the cost of those is already included in the cost of the abortion.

"The testimony that we have received over three sessions has shown that Planned Parenthood and other clinics are already charging women for (the sonogram)," Patrick said. "Women may not know it but Planned Parenthood has testified that they perform the sonogram 100 percent of the time. The difference is they don't tell the women or let them see it if they ask."

What's Next in Texas

And now the negotiation continues: Miller and Patrick must reconcile differences in the two bills, which will later be voted on by both chambers.

Miller's major point of contention with the Senate bill is the two-hour lapse before the abortion, which Miller does not think is sufficient time for the woman to "talk to her friends and family, pray about it, and get a good night's sleep."

The state Senate's hard line is the exception for rape and incest, to which Miller responded that it's especially important for women in those situations to have all of the information available to them.

Perry indicated that he would sign the bill once the Senate and House vote on a final version.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. ABCNews.com reporter Reshma Kirpalani is a member of the ABC News on Campus program at the University of Texas in Austin.
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