Texas Abortion Bill Tentatively Passes House

Author of HB15 Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) debates the sonogram bill on March 2, 2011
Author of HB15 Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) debates the sonogram bill on March 2, 2011

Thursday's debate on Stephenville Republican state Rep. Sid Miller's abortion sonogram bill, House Bill 15, began shortly after 2 p.m. It ended shortly after 9 p.m. The bill passed to third reading on a vote of 103-42, which means one easy step remains before it heads to the Senate.

"Anytime you abort a human life, that's probably the most tragic procedure that could ever be performed," Miller said. "If we can save human lives, that is an emergency."

In fact, the abortion sonogram bill is one of a handful of legislative issues given "emergency" status by Gov. Rick Perry. The designation allows lawmakers to consider bills during a legislative blackout during the first 60 days of a session.

Miller's bill, which is similar to legislation already passed by the Senate, would require doctors to provide information about sonogram tests to pregnant women before performing abortions. Early versions would have required women to view video and listen to audio of their fetuses, but the current version requires the doctors to provide video and audio without requiring the patients to view or listen.

Seven Democrats voted in favor of the bill: Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Tracy King of Batesville, Jose Lozano of Kingsville, Armando Martinez of Weslaco, Sergio Muñoz of Palmview, Joe Pickett of El Paso and Chente Quintanilla of Tornillo.

Freshman state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, voted against the bill. "My vote was not an easy one to make, as I am very sensitive to those who work so valiantly for the sake of preserving life," she said in a press release. "However, in light of my commitment to work against the expanding role of government and my commitment to protect the doctor-patient relationship from government interference, I simply could not support 'The Sonogram Bill.'"

The many hours of debate featured 34 amendments — and a number of amendments to the amendments — most of which were proposed by Democrats and were subsequently tabled along votes that stuck fairly close to party lines. Amendments ranged from the humorous (El Paso Democratic state Rep. Marisa Marquez's proposed allowing pregnant women to mandate vasectomies by court order) to the highly personal (Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia's gave an account of his wife's high risk pregnancy as he proposed an exception for women who have irreversible complications).

Ultimately, the bill reached its current perch with only a few minor tweaks. It still needs to be read and voted upon once more to pass out of the House, though no major (or minor) changes in outcome are expected.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who serves as the House Democratic leader quickly issued a press release expressing her displeasure. "I am deeply disappointed that the Legislature is wasting precious time playing politics with the most personal of decisions rather than dealing with real and challenging issues affecting the state such as the $27 billion budget shortfall, job creation, and the economy," she said.

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