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Texas Gov. Perry signs sonogram bill that supporters say will save lives

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 13:05

FORT WORTH, Texas — As Gov. Rick Perry touted Texas' new law that requires women seeking abortions to first have a sonogram, a national abortions rights group worked to prepare a legal challenge to what they call one of the most restrictive laws in the country.

Surrounded by supporters, Perry on Tuesday said during a ceremonial signing of the bill that Texas women will now have information they need if they decide to end their pregnancies.

"Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy we all must work together to prevent," said Perry, who designated this measure an emergency item this session. "This important bill will ensure that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying, and understands the devastating impact of such a life-changing decision."

The law that goes into effect Sept. 1 requires doctors to make the image of the fetus, and the fetal heart beat, available to a woman, although she may decline to see or hear it. Doctors must describe the fetus, noting the size and condition of limbs and organs. The law also requires women to wait 24 hours after the sonogram to have the abortion, unless a woman lives more than 100 miles from an abortion provider. In that case, the woman has to wait two hours to have an abortion.

Exemptions are allowed in emergencies, in cases of incest or rape or if there are fetal abnormalities.

Bebe Anderson, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, said her group is preparing a lawsuit that will be filed in Texas to challenge this law.

"One of the big problems is the way it forces women to hear or see information when they have chosen not to do that," Anderson said. "It gets the government in between the doctor and the patient in a totally inappropriate way."

The law also "treats women as too immature and incompetent to make this decision themselves," Anderson said. "It implies women don't know the information they need."

Texas' new law continues a decades-long trend of trying to put more restrictions on access to abortion, said Rebecca E. Dean, chair and associate professor of the political science department at the University of Texas, Arlington.

"It will be another component of terminating a pregnancy — like informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period, parental consent for minors and so forth," Dean said. "The real question will be if this law, and others like it, are challenged."

"Women are finally going to get the information they deserve before making a decision on an issue that can never be reversed," said state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican who helped carry the bill. "I believe at least one out of five women may decide to keep the baby or put it up for adoption."

Patrick, who said this law is "the beginning of the end for abortion," believes as many as 15,000 lives could be saved each year. GOP state Rep. Diane Patrick was among those at Tuesday's bill signing, as was Kyleen Wright, who has worked for years to see this measure become law.

"We are thrilled Texas women considering abortion finally have all the information every other surgical patient takes for granted," said Wright, president of the Arlington-based Texans for Life Coalition, who received one of the pens Perry used during the ceremony. "The window to the womb is forever open and there is no going back."

The law's opponents take a different view.

"Once again, Rick Perry has chosen to put the health of his political career ahead of the health of Texas women," said Sara Cleveland, executive director of the NARAL Pro-Choice Texas group. "Our state is facing a record budget shortfall ... yet interfering in women's health is what Perry has chosen to declare an 'emergency' and focus his time and resources on. He should be embarrassed and deeply ashamed of his actions."

For John McPaul, a 75-year-old Arlington retiree, this bill is simply a "travesty."

"Men control their reproductive systems," he said. "This law further takes women's control of their reproductive systems and gives it to the state of Texas.

"This is a sure-fire loser for the women of Texas."

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