The Texas Sonogram Bill Debate

The Texas Pioneer Woman, erected in 1998 by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

While they could’ve been debating over the economy, Texas lawmakers instead debated over abortion in the first half of 2011.  Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to sign a bill that mandates doctors to offer each woman considering an abortion a sonogram of her fetus, a recording of the fetus’s heartbeat, and a non-optional description of the fetus—i.e., the development of limbs and internal organs.  Each woman who wants an abortion in Texas will be required—by law—to listen to an explanation of her sonogram unless she certifies in writing that her pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, she is a minor who got judicial bypass, or her fetus has an irreversible medical condition or abnormality.  All the so-called “sonogram bill,” or HB 15, will need to go into effect is Rick Perry’s signature.  Since he himself designated HB 15 as an emergency bill, we all know what’s coming.

Texas is getting a lot of negative publicity over HB 15, but it’s not the first state to enact a law like this.  However, the fact that Rick Perry gave the sonogram bill emergency status in a recession when constituents need the state government to focus on economic issues—like the laying off of thousands of teachers this year due to district budget cuts—makes the emergency status of this bill particularly embarrassing (at least for Texan pro-choice individuals, such as myself.  Yes, we do exist.).  Furthermore, the premise of the bill assumes that women who initially choose abortion aren’t making an informed decision.  It’s ironic that so many supporters of this bill want to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that exists primarily to educate women about their pregnancies and choices.

The law will breach women’s privacy by forcing them to “justify” that they have a “valid” reason to opt out of hearing an explanation of their sonograms.  Women who are victims of rape, an already painful thing to talk about with loved ones, will have to disclose to their doctors that they were raped, or else endure a potentially traumatizing experience by hearing a description of the fetus.  Additionally, in order to obtain a clear image of the fetus and to pick up a heartbeat, doctors most often use transvaginal ultrasounds.  Pro-choice advocates, such as Texas State Representative Carol Alvarado, believe that the use of transvaginal ultrasounds make the forced sonograms particularly intrusive and disturbing.

Pro-life supporters believe that enforcing the sonogram law will result in fewer pregnant women choosing abortion.  Several have provided unsubstantiated statistics to support their argument.  For instance, Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, affirmed that “we know anecdotally that most of the time when women see their unborn child, 70 to 80 percent of the time [they] end up continuing their pregnancy and choosing life.”  Another pro-life supporter, Cristina Caine, who runs the White Rose Women’s Center in Dallas, Texas, claims that “we know it’s a lifesaving thing…in over 90 percent of cases, a woman will chose life if they see the baby in the ultrasound.”  Where on earth are these statistics coming from?  No clear consensus among the pro-life community exists with regards to whether or not getting spoon fed descriptions of the fetus prevents women from having abortions.

One of the few research studies ever done on women’s reactions to viewing their sonograms was published in 2009 in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health CareThe study shows that when given the option, 72 percent of women chose to view the sonogram image. Of those, 86 percent said it was a positive experience. None changed their mind about the abortion.”  However, the women who took part in that study had a choice—nobody legally compelled them to hear graphic details about their fetuses.

What would, in the long run, truly prevent abortions?  I believe the best possible option is education—education that focuses on the full spectrum of pregnancy prevention—but it shouldn’t start when a woman has already had sex, gotten pregnant, and wants an abortion.  (Seriously, will teens stop having sex just because their school teaches them abstinence?  Doubtfully.)  Also, women should have the freedom to ask for and refuse information.  The sonogram bill, soon to be signed into law, treats women as second-class citizens who can’t make the right choice without “authorities” intervening.

–By Jenna Cooper

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