AUSTIN – Women seeking an abortion in Texas would have to be offered a voluntary ultrasound before undergoing the procedure under a scaled-back bill that the Senate tentatively approved on Thursday.
The compromise measure was offered by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, after he was unable to get Senate consideration of legislation that would have required a sonogram for all women seeking an abortion. Senate Democrats and one Republican used Senate rules to block the more stringent proposal.
"The major difference [between the two proposals] is that this is a scaled-down bill that says when a woman goes into clinic that offers abortions, they must offer her an ultrasound and she must sign a form that she has been offered the ultrasound," Patrick said.
"By signing the form, she will say, 'I choose to have or not have an ultrasound, and I choose to see or not see the results.' Whatever the reason, she can use her own free will and choose what she wants to do."
The measure was tentatively approved on a 20-9 vote, with eight Democrats and one Republican voting no. Three Democrats supported the bill.
Patrick, an abortion rights opponent who noted that there are about 80,000 abortions a year in Texas, said the intent of the bill is "to protect women's health, and if it ends up saving lives, then so much the better."
But several Democrats questioned whether Patrick's main interest was protecting the health of women or discouraging women from having abortions by imposing new conditions for the procedure.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said Patrick was piling on new requirements for pregnant women facing difficult circumstances, calling on them to review multiple documents and sign their name to new forms.
"I have no sinister motives here," Patrick responded. "The bill is what it is. We are trying to shed light on the woman's time with her doctor so she is informed. This is an inform-and-consent bill."
But Davis disputed that, saying, "I think it is about shaming a woman who is in an incredibly difficult and trying situation."
Two years ago, Patrick won Senate approval of a bill requiring mandatory sonograms for women seeking an abortion, but the measure died in a House committee.
A similar bill had been approved by a Senate committee several weeks ago, but Patrick was not able to bring it the Senate floor because a rule that requires the consent of two-thirds of members before a piece of legislation can be brought up.
Asked by Democrats whether he will stand by the voluntary ultrasound provision in his bill if the House tries to change it to a mandatory procedure, Patrick said he would.
"I think it would be a great day in Texas if 31 senators vote yes on this bill, and if they did, I would make that commitment," he said.
In another bill related to abortion, the Senate tentatively voted to authorize customized license plates in Texas that feature the phrase "Choose Life."
That bill by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, also drew opposition from eight Democrats and one Republican in a 22-9 vote. Both the ultrasound and "Choose Life" bills must receive final Senate approval before going to the House.