House lawmakers had their first chance to weigh in on the controversial abortion sonogram bill today in a State Affairs committee hearing — and they didn't mince words. Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, opened Wednesday's testimony by saying that more than 55 million fetuses have been aborted since the Roe v. Wade ruling almost 40 years ago. “That’s a Holocaust times nine,” he said.
Russell Crawford, author of an abortion-rights book, argued that fetuses are not babies, and that a “one shot, pro-life view” right before the procedure is potentially misleading. “The intent of this bill is probably sincere in its belief that what you’re doing is proving to a woman that what she has in her womb is a baby,” Crawford said. But he argued there are many physical differences between a zygote and a baby. "There’s a difference between what is a human baby and what is human tissue,” he said.
Last week, the Senate voted 21-10 to pass legislation requiring a doctor to perform a sonogram at least two hours before a woman has an abortion. Under that bill, the woman can refuse to see the sonogram image or listen to the heartbeat of the fetus, but she must listen to the doctor’s description of the sonogram. Victims of sexual assault or incest, regardless of whether they’ve filed a police report, do not have to listen to the description.
The versions of the bill under consideration in the House are at this point more stringent; they require the sonogram to take place at least 24 hours ahead of the abortion. At present, there's no exception for a woman who is the victim of rape or incest. One version also doesn't give the woman an option to not view the sonogram or hear the heartbeat.
Chris Ward, an attorney who handles cases involving constitutional law, told lawmakers the abortion sonogram bill is “perfectly valid and constitutional.” Ward said states have the right to “enact measures that are intended to show its concern for the life of the unborn” and the mental health of the mother.
Many women — most in favor of the legislation — testified about their experiences with abortion, rape and sonograms. Abby Johnson said she worked as a director of a Planned Parenthood facility in Bryan that performed abortions for eight years until she says she witnessed a 13-week old fetus “lose its battle to abortion.” She supports legislation requiring a face-to-face consultation with a physician 24 hours before the procedure so women are informed about the decision. “Women who have abortions want to be able to talk to their doctor before the procedure is performed,” Johnson said. But often the only information they receive is from recorded messages, pamphlets or a technician telling them to look up the information online, she added.
“I just want to say thank you for your bravery and your strength,” said Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, after listening to the testimony of Darlene Harken, a self-described “victim of abortion.” Harken said no attempt was made to inform her of the physical, emotional or mental consequences before the procedure. “I was just another number and another body passing through a machine,” she said.
Women also testified against the exception for rape and incest victims that passed through in the Senate version of the legislation.
“I hold before you two sonogram pictures. Can anyone tell which one is the rape child?” asked Juda Myers, spokeswoman for Voices of the Martyrs. Myers said her mother was the victim of rape by eight men, but that didn't not make the child — Myers — any less human. Women of rape or incest should not be excluded from the legislation, she said. “The shame of women who carry rape babies is not theirs," she said. "It's society's."
Those testifying focused on the baby's time in the womb — not the daycare, college tuition, dental and health care, and other financial obligations that go into raising a child. But Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, did raise his concerns. “I am somewhat resentful of people who stop caring after the child is born,” he said. Aftercare is “critically important for all these kids ... and those are consequences that need to be part of the conversation.”