Texas House set to pass bill requiring a sonogram before having an abortion

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Republicans in the Texas House will demonstrate their newly-gained power today when they give the official approval of a bill that would require women to get a sonogram before having an abortion.

The legislation survived lengthy debate and exhaustive efforts from Democrats to amend the bill on Thursday. The Texas House needs to take one more procedural vote this afternoon and then send the bill to the Texas Senate, where a similar, less stringent sonogram bill already passed.

In an example of the aggressive anti-abortion rights battles that conservatives are mounting at the state level, the sonogram bill was the first major piece of legislation taken up by the Texas legislature this year. It was one of five measures given "emergency" status by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, in order to hasten their passage. Like the sonogram measure, the other "emergency" items are relatively partisan and politically charged: a voter identification measure, a bill indicating state support for a balanced federal budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an eminent domain measure and a ban on "sanctuary" cities.

The state Senate version of the sonogram bill would grant exemptions for victims of rape or incest. The state House, however, where Republicans hold a two-thirds majority, did not include such an exemption in its version. The state House also rejected an amendment that would have "substituted" the House version with the exact wording of the Senate bill, signaling the legislature may have trouble reconciling the two bills.

In response to the forceful objections raised by Democrats, Republican lawmakers pointed out that a woman may choose "not to receive the information" from the sonogram, the Associated Press reports. In other words, a woman would not be penalized for looking away from the image of the fetus, or wearing headphones to avoid hearing a heartbeat.

Under the legislation, doctors who failed to provide a sonogram before performing an abortion would lose their medical license.

Democrats offered numerous amendments last week to illustrate their objections to the bill. State Rep. Harold Dutton offered an amendment that would, in the event that a woman decided give birth to her child after undergoing the sonogram, require the state to pay for that child's college tuition, the Texas Tribune reports.

Dutton offered another amendment that would have compelled the state to pay for that child's health care until age 18, as well as a third amendment to pay for the child's health care up until age six. All three amendments failed.

"We want to see all these children around, but the state of Texas ends its obligation to that child when it's born," Dutton said, according to the Tribune. "We want it born, but we don't want to do our duty."

State Rep. Marisa Marquez offered an amendment that would have allowed a woman, after being compelled to receive a sonogram, to force the unborn child's father to undergo a vasectomy. That amendment also failed.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, according to the Associated Press, carried an ultrasound wand onto the House floor on Wednesday and on Thursday, described in detail how the tool is used. "This is government intrusion at an all-time high," she said.

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