DALLAS—Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign a law soon requiring a woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram and hear a description of the fetus, including whether it has developed fingers, toes or internal organs.
The goal, supporters say, is to improve medical care for women and encourage them to reconsider having abortions.
“We believe that when they see the miracle of life some will change their minds,” said Dan Patrick, a Republican state senator who represents part of Houston and who sponsored the legislation, which passed both houses of the state legislature last week.
Abortion-rights supporters say there is no evidence that sonograms, also known as ultrasounds, affect a woman’s decision on abortion, and say laws requiring doctors to perform the procedures and describe the results violate patients’ rights.
“It discounts women’s ability to make health decisions and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York non-profit that opposes restrictions on legal abortion.
The group filed a suit challenging a similar law adopted last year in Oklahoma, contending that it violates state constitutional guarantees of privacy for patients and free speech for doctors. A state judge blocked enforcement of the law until the suit is resolved. The group plans to mount a legal challenge to the Texas legislation, if Gov. Perry signs it.
The Texas bill also calls for a 24-hour waiting period between the sonogram and the abortion, except for women who live more than 100 miles from a clinic. Opponents say that waiting period places more burdens on women.
Among provisions in Texas’s proposed measure on abortion:
Any woman seeking an abortion is required to have a sonogram and to hear a developmental description of the fetus.
Rape victims, minors or women carrying fetuses with abnormalities are exempt from hearing the description.
Women may sign waivers opting not to see the sonogram image or hear the heartbeat.
Required 24-hour waiting period between sonogram and abortion, except for patients more than 100 miles from clinic.
In the past decade, more than 20 states have passed laws involving sonograms for women seeking abortions. Most simply require that ultrasounds be performed. But the Texas and Oklahoma laws, as well as legislation under consideration in Alabama, go further by requiring a woman who wants an abortion to be told in detail about her fetus’s development.
Under the Texas law, all women seeking an abortion must have a sonogram but those who have been raped, are minors or who are carrying a fetus with abnormalities are exempt from hearing the description of the image. All women seeking abortions can sign a waiver and choose not to view the image or hear the fetus’s heartbeat.
Groups that oppose abortion say ultrasound can be a powerful tool in persuading a woman considering an abortion to continue her pregnancy.
“Ultrasound is literally a window into the womb,” said Kelly Rosati, vice-president of Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs, Co., ministry. “She actually connects with that child inside of her.”
Focus on the Family has supplied grants to install 520 sonogram machines in pregnancy centers run by abortion opponents around the country. Ms. Rosati calculates that the ultrasound images have prevented 90,000 abortions since 2004. The figure is based on patients’ stated plans after their sonograms; the centers have no way of determining whether the patients gave birth or had abortions, she added.
Many abortion clinics already routinely perform sonograms to determine a pregnancy’s length, said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a New York group that researches reproductive health and favors abortion rights.
At Whole Woman’s Health, a network of clinics in Texas, women seeking abortions can see their sonograms and discuss them with doctors, said Terry Sallas Merritt, a clinic executive. Some women ask for a printout of the image to take home.
“The difference is that it’s up to her,” said Ms. Sallas Merritt. “It’s not the legislators telling her what she must hear before she’s allowed to exercise her right to have an abortion or have a child.”