Last month’s decision by the Supreme Court to let a nationwide partial-birth-abortion ban stand was a wake-up call ... and you still haven’t answered it, you alleged fans of radical, armed autonomy and mind-your-own-bidness. The battle for privacy between reproductive-capable men and women, and women and their doctors, has returned with a vengeance to the state level, and nowhere are the stakes so high as in Tejas, where even restricting the legislature to biennial sessions can’t keep the hands of dimestore preachers out of the fairer sex’s pants.
Case in point: Senator Dan Patrick, recently of the broadcast bully pulpit and fresh to the Pink Dome, learned the ropes quickly enough to late-file a bill that would force doctors to force women seeking an abortion to look at an ultrasound of their uterus first. Or maybe it would just firmly suggest she take a peek — it’s hard to say exactly because Patrick has pulled a soft-shoe shuffle, saying one thing when he has the floor, and another when the pen’s in his hand. As SB 920, which has been passed by the Senate and now sits in the House State Affairs committee, currently reads, part of the bill says a doctor shall inform a woman that looking at the ultrasound is optional, while other language implies the woman must review it and sign a verification form.
Should the Lege pass Patrick’s bill as is, it could give Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott the chance to contradict the AG of South Carolina, who already opined that it’s probably not constitutional to try to force a person to look at something against their will. The House has until May 20 to act on SB 920.
Sadly, Patrick’s bill is not the most egregious one still alive and kicking in the 80th Lege. The House also has until May 20 to act on Senator Florence Shapiro’s SB 785, which aims to intimidate doctors who provide abortions by requiring that they solicit and report detailed information about each patient, including the physician’s name and facility, the woman’s age, race, marital status, city and county of residence, and more. The information would have to be submitted to the Department of State Health Services, which would make it public in the form of statistics each year. Physicians who fail to comply could be fined and eventually charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
Planned Parenthood argues in its talking points for opposing the bill that even without patients’ or physicians’ names attached to the public information, a determined sleuth might be able to figure out who’s who. As the recent discovery of a bomb at an Austin clinic reminds us, women seeking abortions and their doctors have to worry about more than being excluded from the neighborhood holiday party.
Shapiro’s bill also targets judges who rule in favor of minors seeking a judicial bypass so that they can get an abortion without a parent’s consent — a need the law recognizes by offering the option in the first place. SB 785 as it is currently written would require the state to compile and report bypasses granted by county, making the judges who grant them potential pariahs in their own communities.
Abortion services are already difficult to come by in the nation’s second-largest state. In 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 65 abortion providers served all of Texas, leaving 93 percent of the state’s counties and 10 metropolitan areas without this crucial option. Assuming a minor who, for any number of valid reasons can’t confer with her parents or guardians, can even locate a doctor or clinic willing to perform an abortion, she may be stymied by plain-old human incompetence. A 2003 study by Jane’s Due Process found that outside of the major metropolitan areas, most counties were uninformed about or outright hostile to the judicial-bypass provisions of the law.
A nearly identical companion bill, HB 1131 had to make it out of the House’s Calendars Committee by midnight Tuesday to still be considered this session, but regardless of its fate, you need to lobby your legislators about SB 785.
If homeboy Frank Cro-Magnon Corte has his way, a woman seeking this safe and legal procedure would still have to read — or pretend to read — the state’s misleading anti-abortion tract. You know, the infamous one that alleges a completely unsupported link between abortion and breast cancer. `See “Pro-choice barriers,” December 27-2006-January 2, 2007.` HB 21, which also sits in Calendars awaiting an appointment with destiny, would require a physician to present the material to any woman seeking an abortion, and require her to sign for it. HB 21 also had to make it out of Calendars by midnight Tuesday to still be viable this session. You can check on its and its companions’ status, and contact your lawmakers, at Capitol.state.tx.us. As the Supremes made clear in April, no one is going to do it for you.