The Texas Senate Affairs Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would require doctors to perform a sonogram on women seeking an abortion and describe whether the fetus has arms, legs or other internal organs before completing the procedure, except in extraordinary circumstances.
Supporters of Senate Bill 16 argued that women need the information before receiving an abortion. Opponents said the law would put the government between doctors and patients.
The bill requires doctors to describe what they see while performing the sonograms in explicit detail. If passed, the law would also require doctors to offer patients the opportunity to see the sonogram and to listen to the fetal heartbeat. The only exceptions are for abortions that as are a result of emergencies, sexual assault, incest of fetal abnormalities.
The bill's author, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said the law is necessary to guarantee that women have the information.
The doctor "is required to perform the sonogram, explain it as he is doing the sonogram so that she has an informed consent as to what is happening," Patrick told the committee. "This is a strong bill and a prudent bill."
Opponents complained, however, that the bill would be the first time lawmakers have required when and how a doctor performs a test, and what they tell their patients when.
Patrick insisted the bill was not about curtailing abortions, but that if it did, it was a result he would welcome. He said the purpose of the bill was to make sure the patient was fully informed before consenting to an abortion.
Several doctors complained, though, that the bill was contrary to accepted medical practices and interfered with their relationship with their patients.
"This bill not only tells me what to do, but how to do it," said Dr. Matt Romberg, a private practice doctor who does not perform elective abortions. "This bill tells me what word choices to use."
Performing a sonogram to see the development of a fetus and to check on the health of woman's uterus is standard procedure before conducting a non-emergency abortion. Supporters said the bill is necessary because some doctors were denying women the chance to see the sonogram before the abortion was performed.
Dr. Joe Spear, the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Austin, said his organization always offers patients the chance to see the sonogram and to take home a print-out of they wish. He said the bill did not constitute informed consent.
"The verbal description of the sonogram image beyond presence of a heartbeat and the length of gestation would not offer most women any additional information with which to make an informed decision and instead smacks of coercion," Spear said.
A similar bill was passed by the committee in 2009 but failed to become law. The bill must now be approved by the entire Senate and the state House of Representatives.