The Texas House Women’s Health Caucus has announced plans to try to repeal the 24-hour waiting period imposed by the abortion sonogram law that legislators approved in 2011.
“It’s just ridiculous that we do things to women to manipulate their minds instead of trusting that they already have made a very difficult decision,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the chairwoman of the caucus, said Wednesday at a news conference. “For a body that does not want to expand Medicaid today … we are doing everything we can to increase those Medicaid numbers with the policies that are in opposition to women’s health.”
The abortion sonogram law requires a physician to perform a sonogram 24 hours before a woman can receive an abortion, play the sound of the heartbeat and describe the development of the fetus. Supporters of the sonogram law say that pregnant women shouldn't be rushed through a difficult process and that the waiting period helps them think through a life-changing decision.
Farrar, who says she plans to file legislation this week to repeal the 24-hour waiting period, says that waiting period has imposed emotional and financial burdens on women seeking an abortion. She cited preliminary research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a three-year study at the University of Texas at Austin measuring the impact of decisions state lawmakers made in 2011 regarding women’s health.
The Policy Evaluation Project researchers conducted a survey of more than 300 women seeking an abortion in Texas. It found the 24-hour waiting period had a negative emotional impact on 31 percent of woman and a positive emotional impact on 18 percent. Nearly half of the women reported additional costs — $146 on average — caused by the 24-hour waiting period, as they had to pay for extra transportation, child care and other services in addition to the abortion.
Multiple bills have been filed to further increase abortion restrictions in Texas. "Fetal pain" bills filed by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, and Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker — Senate Bill 25 and House Bill 2364 — would ban abortions 20 weeks after conception unless the life or physical health of the mother is in danger. Supporters of the fetal pain bills argue that is the point in development at which fetuses can feel pain. And SB 97 filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who also authored the abortion sonogram law, would also increase restrictions on physicians performing medical abortions.
"The state has a responsibility to prevent the needless suffering of our most vulnerable citizens,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a recent statement supporting the fetal pain bills. “Texas has done a great deal of work over the last several years to nurture our culture of life, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect the lives of the unborn, until abortion is finally a thing of the past."
The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that 57 percent — support the “fetal pain” legislation, while 26 percent oppose it. Overall, 15 percent said abortion should never be allowed; 29 percent would allow it in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger; and 39 percent would allow abortions at any time as a matter of personal choice.
The Legislature is also considering measures to restore financing for family planning services, as the Health and Human Services Commission has reported that the family-planning cuts could lead to 24,000 additional births in the 2014-15 biennium. Those births could cost taxpayers as much as $273 million, as many of those children will be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program.
According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project’s survey, 45 percent of women having an abortion said they were unable to access the family planning method that they wanted in the three months prior to pregnancy because it cost too much, they didn’t have insurance or they had difficulty getting a prescription.
This finding “highlights how particularly cruel it is to impose these restrictions on abortion care,” while simultaneously defunding family planning services, said Daniel Grossman, the vice president of Ibis Reproductive Health, who also worked on the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.