The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 10, 2011

Dr. Scott Spear, a pediatrician, testifies before the Senate State Affairs Committee on February 9, 2011
Dr. Scott Spear, a pediatrician, testifies before the Senate State Affairs Committee on February 9, 2011

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Abortion sonogram legislation, which its author says will be the "strongest in the nation," took a step toward becoming law Wednesday.

Yesterday, after a day of testimony and amendments, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to advance the bill, which originally required women seeking an abortion to view a sonogram of the fetus.

The amended version requires a doctor to perform a sonogram at least 24 hours before an abortion and to display the images to the woman, although she may refuse to view them. A doctor must also play audio of the fetal heartbeat to the woman, who can refuse to listen. Women would still be required to hear a fetal description from the doctor (with certain exceptions, including for victims of rape or incest).

"This is an issue about empowering women," said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, an abortion rights opponent who has maintained that he filed the bill to help inform women of the risks of the abortion procedure. "What this bill does is remove the barrier that is placed in front of women now from getting information they're entitled to."

 

The bill has drawn the ire of abortion rights advocates and some doctors concerned about government intrusion into their work with patients. "Although I think the amendments helped somewhat, this is still just a huge government intrusion on a procedure that really needs to be between the patient and the physician," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who voted against the bill in committee.

Patrick remained pleased with the bill's language, though, saying he thought the amended legislation was "a stronger bill than we even began the day with," according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The bill now moves on to the full Senate, where, as the Tribune's Julián Aguilar reports today, the issue may reveal a rift among the chamber's Hispanic Democrats, for whom religious beliefs and personal histories stir mixed feelings.

CULLED:

  • House Speaker Joe Straus' committee assignments, released Wednesday, bolstered Republican power, with the party gaining a number of chairs (including, notably, that of longtime Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who led the Ways and Means Committee) but didn't leave Democrats entirely out in the cold. "It's quality of assignments, not quantity," said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, according to the Statesman. "We're well-situated to help with some very serious problems."
  • Lawyers for Tom DeLay, convicted in November of money laundering and conspiracy, want a new trial for the former U.S. House majority leader. Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's attorney, filed a motion Wednesday that, he told the Houston Chronicle, "gets down to the basics that there wasn't a crime. There wasn't a crime alleged and there wasn't a crime committed."

MUST-READ:

[Editor's note: In the bill passed by the Senate committee, doctors are still required to perform sonograms on women seeking abortions, not merely required to offer to perform them, as this post previously stated.]

 

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