Texas Sonogram Bill Reworked

Round Rock physician Dr. Matt Romberg testifies before the Senate State Affairs Committee on February 9, 2011
Round Rock physician Dr. Matt Romberg testifies before the Senate State Affairs Committee on February 9, 2011

Even before state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, tweaked a bill requiring a woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram performed, he said lawmakers and the media misunderstood his intent. Today, before the Senate State Affairs Committee, he says he is getting his chance to clear things up.

Patrick, who admits he is adamantly pro-life and would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, said the bill is first about a woman’s right to know. Requiring the sonogram, he said, is about informing the woman of the risks and what the procedure entails. Patrick likened it to taking an X-ray before a broken leg is operated on.

As originally filed, Senate Bill 16 would require doctors to perform a sonogram, explain the procedure as it’s performed and require a woman see the image and hear the heartbeat. The bill contained language that allowed a woman to “avert her eyes” if she so chose. A committee substitute introduced this morning, however, amends that language and provides the option for the patient to refuse seeing and hearing the sonogram altogether.

“She has a right to choose not to view. The intent of this bill … was always that doctors perform the sonogram,” he told committee members.

The committee is in recess, but testimony is expected to continue this afternoon after the Senate adjourns for the day. Last month Gov. Rick Perry placed the item on his list of emergency items and asked lawmakers to fast-track the legislation.

Opponents of Patrick's bill, including several doctors, said this morning that the bill is an overreach that would erode the relationship between a patient and a doctor. They said it's a potential waste of resources if the patient has already had a sonogram performed by her primary care physician.

“Standard care already includes performing an ultrasound and giving the woman the option,” said Dr. Scott Spear, the director of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. “The provision in this bill interferes with the patient and doctor relationship.”

Added the ACLU of Texas in a statement: “If ever there was an example of government overreach, here it is. If this bill becomes law, your elected officials will essentially be in the doctor's office with the women of this state.”

Patrick isn’t hiding his hope that if the bill passes, it will prompt some women to change their minds, even though he said that isn’t the legislative intent.

“My belief is that some women, when they see that sonogram and see that baby and hear that heartbeat, if they choose to do so, may change their minds and say ‘You know what? That’s my baby,’” he said Tuesday.

Teresa Sadler said she could have been one of those women. During testimony today, she said she had an abortion performed in Denton when she was 19. She said that during her sonogram she was told to look away from the screen, and when doctors caught her looking at the image, she was told to “lay back down.”

Now a nurse, Sadler said that had she had more information then, that “might have made my decision easier.”

It all comes down to abortion clinics doing what they are supposed to, Patrick added.

“I believe Planned Parenthood is purposefully putting up a barrier between the woman and the information that they are entitled to receive, and that’s based on five years of my study of this issue and testimony,” he said.

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