If a woman is raped in Texas and impregnated by her assailant, she could soon be forced to endure a second round of physical violation at the hands of the state, thanks to a bill currently speeding its way through the state's legislature.
House Bill 15, better known as the "sonogram bill," sponsored by state Rep. Sid Miller (R), cleared the Texas House Monday afternoon in a final procedural vote. A similar version in the Senate already enjoyed substantial support from legislators, and now the two bills will be merged before final passage.
Thanks to the state's Republican supermajority and Governor Rick Perry's designation of the issue as an "emergency," there's almost no question that the state will soon mandate sonograms.
While proponents of the legislation like to say they're just ensuring that a woman gets "both sides of the story" on abortion, critics say the bill is really about shaming women into deciding against terminating a pregnancy.
However, these legislators aren't talking about requiring the most well-known type of later-term sonogram that starts with a bit of cold gel on a woman's bulging abdomen.
Since most abortions take place before 12 weeks, when the fetus is little more than a small cluster of nearly undetectable cells, the vast majority of women who request the procedure will instead be required by the state to undergo an invasive "transvaginal sonogram." (For a medical image depicting the procedure, click here.)
Worst of all, critics say, the bill does not include an exception for victims of sexual assault. That literally means that a woman impregnated by a rapist would have to undergo a second physical violation if she chose to terminate the resulting pregnancy.
Sponsor insists it's about 'informed consent'
"We tried this in the last two legislative sessions and got the job done," Rep. Miller, the bill's sponsor, told Raw Story in an exclusive interview Monday afternoon. "We think, you know, third time's the charm, hopefully."
He called the bill an "informed consent" law and said that Republicans merely wanted to ensure a doctor-patient "relationship" is formed between a woman seeking an abortion and the care provider.
During the sonogram, an abortion doctor or a licensed sonogram provider would be required to describe the fetus in detail and make the patient listen to an audio recording from inside the womb, ostensibly to emphasize the fetal heartbeat, if any. While the bill makes an exception to the sonogram requirement for "medical emergencies," it does not permit women to simply refuse.
Women who decline to hear information about the fetus will be required to sign a sworn affidavit that's to be kept on file for at least seven years. Clinics and doctors that do not comply with this rule could lose their license to practice medicine in the state.
"This is the only medical procedure where the woman never even sees a doctor," Miller said. "You know, a woman goes in the facility, fills out the paperwork and doesn't even see a doctor until she's on the table and sedated. Doctor comes in with a mask on his face, does the procedure and leaves."
Miller also suggested that Planned Parenthood, a non-profit group, has a "financial incentive" to perform as many abortions as possible.
The subsidized health care provider said that abortions in the first trimester typically cost between $350 and $900, but only about three percent of Planned Parenthood's patients request abortion services. The majority of their work is dedicated to disease screenings, education and pregnancy prevention. Services that Planned Parenthood provides actually cost much more when administered only through private health care plans.
Miller added that he wasn't sure if Planned Parenthood and Title X funding, which supports contraceptive proliferation and reproductive education, helps prevent abortions. He also said he did not believe the bill needed an exception for the victims of sexual assault.
'This gives us great concern'
Sarah Wheat, director of community affairs at the Planned Parenthood office in Austin, Texas, said the bill seemed to be yet another attack on the credibility of their organization.
"Most Texans are appalled by this bill and by the way it's being handled, given that it's been prioritized as an emergency over everything else that the state is facing and all the challenges we've got with the budget shortfall," she said. "I think this was the first sign of what a high priority has been placed on politics over the issues most Texans are concerned about."
The state was facing a budget shortfall of $26.8 billion at the start of the current legislative session.
"This is an issue that legislators are not trained to direct," Wheat added. "They do not have medical training and they're actually directing how medical care is provided. This gives us great concern."
Planned Parenthood served over 263,000 Texans in 2010 at 81 health centers around the state. The vast majority of their patients are uninsured and depend upon the taxpayer-subsidized health program for disease screenings and other vital reproductive health services..
The group said that in Texas during last year alone, it administered over 121,000 cervical cancer screenings, over 123,000 breast cancer screenings and handed out birth control pills to over 201,000 women.
Image credit: Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user cjette.