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New hope against the sonogram law?

Possible new hope, but not any time soon.


Attorneys who represented Texas doctors in a lawsuit against the state’s 2011 abortion sonogram law are considering their legal options following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday decision not to revive a similar North Carolina law.

The high court refused to reconsider a North Carolina appellate court’s decision striking down a state law that would have required doctors to perform an ultrasound on a pregnant woman and describe the fetus before she could obtain an abortion. Texas has a similar sonogram law — which has been upheld by a federal appeals court.

“We are in the process of evaluating our legal options in light of today’s order out of the Supreme Court which allowed strong lower court rulings to stand,” said Julie Rikelman, litigation director for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed suit against the sonogram law in North Carolina and Texas.

The Texas law requires doctors to perform a sonogram at least 24 hours before an abortion, display the sonogram images, make the heartbeat audible and provide a verbal explanation of the sonogram results to the woman. Doctors must also describe the medical risks of an abortion and determine the gestational age of the fetus.

In 2012, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas sonogram law.

The Virginia-based 4th Circuit created a split among appellate courts when it ruled against North Carolina’s law last year, making it more likely that the Supreme Court would take up the issue.

In deciding not to consider the North Carolina case, the high court left in place the appellate court’s ruling that struck down the law in that state. The Texas law was not appealed to the Supreme Court.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. Technically, the Fifth Circuit did not uphold the sonogram law, they vacated the injunction against enforcing it while it was being appealed. As far as I can tell, the Fifth Circuit didn’t hear an appeal on the merits of the case – which, remember, was won by the plaintiffs – they just disagreed with the district court when it ruled that the plaintiffs would be likely to prevail on their claims. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t fully grasp all of the legal hair-splitting here, I just know this is not quite the same as what the Trib story states. Unless I’m wrong about that, in which case I hope one of the attorneys in my audience corrects me.

Anyway. The Fourth Circuit ruled that North Carolina’s sonogram law, which required doctors and technicians to perform an ultrasound, display the image of the sonogram, and specifically describe the fetus to any pregnant woman seeking an abortion, even if the woman actively “averts her eyes” and “refuses to hear”, was a compelled speech provision that violates the First Amendment rights of medical providers. The Fifth Circuit ruling reminds us what was in contention in the Texas case:

H.B. 15, passed in May 2011, substantially amended the 2003 Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act (“WRKA”). The amendments challenged here are intended to strengthen the informed consent of women who choose to undergo abortions. The amendments require the physician “who is to perform an abortion” to perform and display a sonogram of the fetus, make audible the heart auscultation of the fetus for the woman to hear, and explain to her the results of each procedure and to wait 24 hours, in most cases, between these disclosures and performing the abortion. TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE § 171.012(a)(4). A woman may decline to view the images or hear the heartbeat, § 171.0122(b), (c), but she may decline to receive an explanation of the sonogram images only on certification that her pregnancy falls into one of three statutory exceptions. Id. at § 171.0122(d).

Again, not a lawyer, but that sounds fairly similar to the North Carolina law. The Chron story, however, suggests that it doesn’t really matter.

That means opponents of the Texas law would have to convince the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its 2012 decision or take up a new challenge – avenues that both are unlikely to succeed, legal experts said.

“The courts are likely to say, ‘we’ve already decided that issue,'” said Caitlin Borgmann, a professor at the City University of New York Law School.

Lyle Denniston, a reporter who has covered the Supreme Court for 57 years and now writes for SCOTUSBlog, said a motion for reconsideration was not even a long shot.

Absent a successful motion, he said, “the Texas case is over and done.”


On Monday, some legal experts and abortion activists saw the high court’s decision as a possible sign that the justices were holding off on taking up an abortion case until being able to consider a more complicated and controversial one – such as House Bill 2.

“The House Bill 2 case just makes a better vehicle because it has a number of different restrictions and it’s fairly representative of what’s going on (across the country),” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “Maybe that’s what’s going on, that they’re waiting.”

Tobias and others said it was much less likely that there would be future action on the Texas sonogram law.

HB2 is of course the abortion bill from 2013 that the Fifth Circuit just did its thing on. Sure would be nice to have a decent Circuit Court of Appeals over us, but we don’t. So now we get to wait and see how the legal process plays out with the Supreme Court. Daily Kos and RH Reality Check have more.

Don’t stop fighting for choice

That’s the message I take from this.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

They’re pushing a boulder up a hill in the conservative Texas Legislature. But three House Democrats remain laser-focused on repealing the 24-hour waiting period for abortion imposed by the state’s 2011 sonogram law.

“This 24-hour waiting period has proven to be ineffective, unnecessary and cruel,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat and the chairwoman of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, said at a Thursday press conference. “It does not change a pregnant Texas woman’s decision.”


Farrar’s House Bill 709, which was filed in January, would not repeal the requirement that a doctor perform a sonogram before an abortion is performed. It would only remove the provision of the law that requires the sonogram to take place 24 hours before an abortion — which abortion rights advocates say is an obstacle for low-income women who struggle with transportation and child care, and face an already dwindling number of clinics.

Farrar acknowledged that there isn’t enough support in the Legislature to repeal the measure.

“That doesn’t stop us from continuing to talk about this, because the worst thing that can happen is that we all become silent,” Farrar said. “I think history has shown that because people are vocal over time, eventually you have success.”

The 24-hour waiting period bill is part of a package of women’s health legislation filed by Farrar, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. Those lawmakers are leading a policy campaign to improve reproductive care in Texas. The other bills include measures allowing more comprehensive sex education in Texas schools and carving out a “professional judgment exception” that would give medical professionals performing abortion-related services room to circumvent some state requirements.

Farrar filed a similar 24-hour waiting period bill during the 2013 legislative session, but it died in committee. She said the waiting period is even more burdensome now than it was last session because of the recent closure of so many clinics.

The Austin Chronicle adds more details.

Austin Rep. Donna Howard’s HB 1210 prevents physicians from being penalized for refusing to comply with certain abortion-related directives, including providing inaccurate or inappropriate information. (Like the medically questionable state-approved “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that links abortion to breast cancer – given to abortion patients.) “We’ve seen repeated instances of Texas lawmakers inserting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship,” said Howard, a former registered nurse. “… I spoke with numerous doctors who mentioned they were having to choose between their best medical judgment and the directives that were forced onto them by legislators. Politics should never take precedence over medical judgment and certainly not when the health and safety of a mother is at risk.”


Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, highlighted her House Bill 78 (co-authored by Howard), which seeks to improve sexual education in Texas public schools, an effort to help prevent unintended pregnancies by providing students with medically accurate and evidence-based facts.

Look, I’m well aware of how the last election went, and of what the odds are of any of these bills seeing the light of day. But do you think things are going to get better or worse if we sit on our hands and do nothing over the next few years? It’s one thing to make a strategic retreat and live to fight another day, it’s another thing entirely to give up fighting. If we don’t stand for what we believe in, who will? KUHF has more.

SCOTUS to review request to reinstate injunction against HB2

It’s never a good thing to have one’s fate in Justice Scalia’s hands, but that’s where we are.

State attorneys filed a response on Tuesday to abortion providers’ request for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the ongoing legal battle over the constitutionality of Texas’ new regulations on the procedure.

Abortion providers on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a lower federal court’s injunction that blocked Texas from implementing strict new abortion rules, which the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted. Justice Antonin Scalia, who is considering the plaintiffs’ request, ordered the state to respond by Nov. 12.

“The applicants focus almost exclusively on their claim that ‘approximately 20,000 Texas women’ will be unable to obtain abortions each year on account of HB2’s hospital-admitting privileges requirement,” the Texas attorney general’s office responded on Tuesday. “But a litigant does not establish a factual proposition by asserting it to be so.”

The state’s attorneys debate evidence presented by the plaintiffs that 13 abortion facilities that do not have a physician with nearby hospital admitting privileges would be forced to stop performing abortion, leading an estimated 20,000 women to lose access to abortion services. The state argues there’s not enough evidence that remaining abortion providers could not take on those additional patients.

The 5th Circuit plans to hold a hearing to fully consider the case in January. The state’s attorneys argued in their response that it’s “hard to imagine” the Supreme Court would reconsider the case after the 5th Circuit, unless the 5th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the 7th Circuit’s ruling on a similar hospital admitting privileges requirement in Wisconsin. “The applicants do not allege that this scenario is ‘likely,’ and it is highly unlikely, especially when the Wisconsin and Texas cases are likely to turn on features unique to each state’s abortion market,” state attorneys note in their response.

The plaintiffs anticipate that Scalia will issue an expedited decision shortly after receiving the state’s response. He could also refer the case to the entire U.S. Supreme Court. If Scalia does not reverse the 5th Circuit’s decision or refer the case to the whole court, the plaintiffs may ask another Supreme Court justice to consider the case. If the case is not considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, it will still proceed in the 5th Circuit.

See here and here for previous updates, and click the Trib link above to see copies of the filings. I have no idea what to expect here, but as it happens on Tuesday the Supreme Court also refused to hear an appeal from the state of Oklahoma asking for a review of a state court ruling that struck down their law requiring an ultrasound before an abortion. As I said the last time, that only required SCOTUS to decline to act, where here we need them to take action. But you find your reasons to be optimistic where you can.

Zaffirini and Uresti stand against needless abortion restrictions

Good to hear, but given their histories it’s wise to be vigilant.

Texas Republicans are one vote short of passing a controversial abortion bill in the Senate — and the fate of the legislation now rests squarely on the shoulders of two South Texas Democrats.

Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, oppose the bill, and without their votes it won’t have the supermajority needed under Senate rules to get to a floor vote.

Both senators occasionally have sided with Republicans to pass anti-abortion measures, voting as recently as 2011 for a contentious bill that requires women to have a sonogram before an abortion. But if they maintain their opposition to Senate Bill 537, which would increase regulations for abortion clinics, the bill is stuck.

The measure has been on the Senate’s calendar for nearly two weeks but has yet to be considered. The Senate requires a two-thirds majority, or 21 votes, to consider legislation. SB 537 has 20 supporters — 19 Republicans and a lone Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.


Zaffirini said she is “strongly pro-life” but opposes this bill because it “does nothing to make abortions less necessary” and “has the potential to limit access to critical health care services for thousands of Texas women.”

“Instead of attempting to address problems that do not exist, the Texas Legislature should focus on making women’s health care and prenatal care more accessible and affordable,” she said.

Uresti, who voted against the measure in committee, said it would reduce health care services, including abortion, for women in his district, specifically in rural areas.

“I don’t want to create barriers for women to access health services,” said Uresti, noting that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill.

They’re saying the right things, but believe me, I have not forgotten their role in letting the awful sonogram bill pass in 2011. All we needed was one of them plus Lucio to say no, since Jeff Wentworth was also a No vote, but in the end Uresti sold out for a small modification to the bill that somewhat exempted his own district from its reach. Ultimately, Uresti and Zaffirini need to hear from Democrats, around the state but especially in their district, thanking them for holding fast on this, with at least the vague hint of a threat to be primaried if they cave in. They have it exactly right on what it is that SB537 will do. All they need to do is stick to that.

And before anyone says “Kermit Gosnell”, read this and this and this and this. Kermit Gosnell is what happens when women don’t have access to reliable abortion providers. It’s called the back alley, and it was supposed to have been banished forty years ago. Take away enough other choices, however, and it’s what’s left, just like it was before 1973.

The war on women continues apace

Honestly, I’m surprised that it’s taken as long as it has for this to happen.

Right there with them

Abortion clinics in Texas may soon face harsh new state requirements that pro-choice advocates say could greatly reduce access to abortion.

Sens Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed a bill this morning that would require abortion clinics to meet the same conditions as ambulatory surgical centers.

The measure, Senate Bill 537, would force abortion clinics to follow the Texas Administrative Code for surgical centers, a 117 page document outlining everything from laboratory, nursing and anaesthesiologist requirements to radiological and construction procedures. Most of this code has little to do with the services provided by abortion clinics.

Filed by three pro-life doctors, legislation like this has been viewed as an underhanded tactic, which, in other states (like Alabama), has been criticized for threatening to close abortion clinics that don’t have the capacity or funding to meet such strict new requirements.

However, Sen. Deuell contends that the legislation is simply a method of increasing safety and health among Texas women. “Just as a medical doctor,” he said, “it came to me that they’re not under the same standards as any other surgical clinics and that we need to put them under that just for the safety of the patients.”

Deuell was adamant that the bill isn’t a pro-life tactic to close abortion clinics or make abortion less accessible. “It has nothing to do with abortions being done or not done.” He continued, “They’re legal, so they’re being done, and it is a surgical procedure, and it needs to be done in a place that has the same standards as a surgical center. Simple as that.”

He also asserted that the legislation would actually improve women’s health and accessibility to abortion providers. “The pro-choice movement talks about wanting to take abortions out of the back alley so they can be done properly. If you’re not certified as a surgical center, then that gets more toward the back alley and not in mainstream medicine, which is where it needs to be,” Deuell said.

Yes, I’m sure this just now came to Sen. Deuell. Of course, by his own reasoning, if he’s so concerned about women’s health, this should have been the very first bill he ever filed in the Senate. I mean, just think about all those poor women, having to get abortions in clinics that don’t measure up to his standards for cleanliness and safety for all these years. It’s scandalous, really. Of course, anyone who is content to let thousands of people die through his or her inaction or out of political spite really has no standing to claim “concern” for anyone’s health. The term “pro-life” is such a travesty these days, Jonathan Swift would be embarrassed to use it.

Not that any of that matters, I suppose. If this passes the Senate it will easily become law, and I have no reason to believe the courts will block it. As such, there are three people in the state that can prevent this from happening: Senators Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini. It was their support of the awful sonogram bill that allowed it to clear the two-thirds bar in the Senate and make its way to Rick Perry’s desk. It took all three of them to enable its passage, since Jeff Wentworth stood with the other nine Democrats to hold this off. Depending on whether this abomination comes to the Senate floor before or after the SD06 special election is resolved, we may need two or all three of them to say no, this is going too far. This would be an excellent time to call their offices and make your voice heard, especially if you live in their district. It’s up to them to decide who they want to stand with.

Somewhat ironically, that news story cam out at the same time as this one.

Doctors, hospitals, clinics, health care groups, faith organizations and family planning associations urged lawmakers Wednesday to restore funding cut from women’s health programs for contraceptives and health screening.

At the forefront of their fight are two women who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Rep. Sarah Davis, of West University Place, and Democratic Rep. Donna Howard, of Austin. Both appeared at a Capitol news conference hosted by the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.

Howard cited state estimates that thousands more unplanned births to low-income women as a result of family planning cuts will cost Texas millions more in Medicaid payments.

The state has projected 6,480 more Medicaid births at a cost of $33 million in the current fiscal year due to the reduction in family planning expenses. In the next two-year budget period, an extra 24,000 births are anticipated at a cost of $103 million.

Davis, a breast cancer survivor who is on an Appropriations subcommittee overseeing health and human services, said, “It’s really no longer the time to be playing politics with women’s health.”

In the Statesman, Rep. Davis is quoted saying that some of her Republican colleagues who voted for the cuts “didn’t realize they would hurt other kinds of clinics”, which is a polite way of saying that they’re deeply ignorant. They were told at the time exactly what would happen, they just chose not to believe it. It’s nice to hear that they may be slightly less willfully dumb this time around, but their concern for women’s health remains at best highly selective.

The first rule of women’s health

Is don’t talk about things that make certain Republicans queasy.

A proposed state rule that would prohibit doctors in Texas’ Women’s Health Program from discussing the option of abortion with their patients — even if the patient asks about it — has drawn the opposition of Texas medical groups.

The groups take issue specifically with a clause that states the provider must not “promote elective abortions.” The word “promote” as defined by the proposed rule includes counseling and referrals to abortion providers, as well as the display of any materials from abortion providers.

In a letter to the Department of State Health Services on Friday, the Texas Medical Association, along with four other groups representing a combined 47,000 physicians and medical students, wrote that the rule would jeopardize medical ethics and doctors’ relationships with their patients. They argued that doctors might leave the program as a result of the rule, putting the already embattled program at risk.

You can see the TMA’s letter here. Note that they mention First Amendment concerns, which was the basis of the lawsuit against the horrible sonogram bill, for which an injunction was granted by the federal district court, then tossed by the activist appeals court. If the state of Texas yields on this point, I guess that means some people’s First Amendment rights are greater than some other people’s First Amendment rights. Remember also that this is for the replacement Women’s Health Program that the state is paying for with its own money after its fit of pique against Planned Parenthood. They pretty much have to come to some arrangement with the doctors or else there won’t be anyone to actually provide the services that the state insists it can provide. I don’t know if that will have any practical effect on the sonogram litigation, but it will highlight once again how ludicrous that Fifth Circuit ruling was.

And then they went right back to not caring about women

Such a delightfully cynical little stunt.

Yeah, right

Thirteen Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation wrote a letter to President Obama protesting the administration’s decision to phase out funding for the Texas Women’s Health Program.

The administration took the action after the Texas Legislature voted to ban all state funding to Planned Parenthood to protest the group’s abortion services. None of the federal money in question is used for abortion services, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says Texas is not permitted to discriminate against health-services providers.

“We are concerned that your decision to deny this waiver is not being driven by concern for the health of Texas women, but by your insistence at [sic] supporting a pro-abortion agenda, something the Texas Legislature has statutorily forbidden the state of Texas from following,” the lawmakers wrote.

Of course, none of these gentlemen (the list of signatories did not include the lone woman among the GOP Congressional delegation, Rep. Kay Granger) made a peep of protest when the Republicans in the Legislature slashed spending on the Women’s Health Program and blocked bills that would have continued it. I certainly don’t recall any of them protesting when the Bush Administration denied the same waiver request back in 2005; back then, Texas acceded to the federal government’s edict and life went on. And of course on matters like the sonogram bill and the Blunt Amendment and every petty little attack on women’s health that this Congress has become reviled for they took or would have taken the anti-woman side. And as a sign that the divide on this is more than just partisan, here’s another Texas Republican woman who didn’t sign on to this letter:

During an interview on MSNBC [Thursday] morning, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) voiced rare support for Planned Parenthood, noting that the organization provides much-needed preventive care to low-income women. The outgoing Texas senator also condemned a recently-enacted Texas law that prohibits Planned Parenthood from participating in the Medicaid program and providing health care services to some 130,000 women.

There’s a transcript and video there and at the Trib. While it’s true as Kaili Joy Gray says that KBH hasn’t exactly been a staunch advocate for reproductive freedom – I don’t recall her making any noise about those other items, either – she has been better than many of her male peers, however low a bar that is to clear. And it must be noted, this is an opportunity for her to stick a shiv into Rick Perry, which I’m sure was irresistible. Nonetheless, she now stands apart on this, and by doing so clearly shows how far out these yokels are. Nicely done, Senator.

Mockery is the best medicine

Business Insider comes across the Facebook fun.

Women aren’t too happy with Rick Perry’s stance on family planning funding. Today, they let him know the best way they could, with some well-directed Internet snark.

Posts asking Perry’s advice about everything from menstruation to menopause flooded the governor’s Facebook wall this morning. They’ve since been taken down, and new posting has been disabled, but screenshots document the whole episode.

Click here to see their screenshots. The only think wrong with this report, which was written Monday, was that the hijinx had started several days earlier, as Nonsequiteuse had been documenting. Sadly, that fun came to a halt yesterday, as Team Perry finally figured out that social media is a two-way street (a lesson you’d think they’d have learned by now) and shut off the ability to post on his wall. Perry’s spokeperson whined about how mean everyone was, but they were pwned, plain and simple. Well done, ladies.

Bye-bye, WHP

Thanks, Rick!

Federal health officials announced Thursday what state leaders have predicted for weeks: that they are halting funding for Texas’ Women’s Health Program.

Cindy Mann, director of the federal Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, said Texas left her agency no other choice by forging ahead with a rule designed to force Planned Parenthood clinics out of the program

“We have no choice but to not renew their program,” Mann said. “… We very much regret that the state of Texas has taken this course.”


Mann said under federal law, Medicaid beneficiaries must be able to choose their own providers. “Neither the federal government nor the state government is permitted to stop people from getting services from their trusted source of care,” she said.

She said CMS will begin a gradual phase-out of the program, so funds won’t be cut off immediately. If Texas takes over the program and no women lose services within the next three months, she said, federal support will be terminated. If not, they might extend the support longer. Mann said the state must submit a transition plan to the federal government for approval by April 16.

Here’s the letter, and here’s a letter signed by State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Carol Alvarado, and Sylvester Turner thanking Director Mann for not cutting us off completely right away. Unfortunately, there’s also this:

Asked if local governments could skip the state level and coordinate directly with the federal government to continue to get support, Mann said no. She said money for Medicaid programs flows through the state.

Which means that the workaround Coleman and others proposed the other day won’t work. Which means we’re stuck with Perry’s phony promise, which he intends to pay for by cutting other HHS programs. If he’s going to be forced to do something for a bunch of people he couldn’t care less about, then by God someone’s gonna get hurt for it. Remember when Rick Perry pretended to care about cervical cancer?

A few years ago, in the name of fighting cervical cancer, Gov. Perry signed an executive order mandating HPV vaccinations for Texan girls. In a September 2011 presidential debate, Perry stated that “Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die” – yet he is moving to end cervical cancer screenings covered by WHP for over 130,000 Texan women. We are asking him why. The women of Texas are waiting for your response, Rick. And no, we aren’t talking about abortion – don’t change the subject – we are talking about cancer. We are talking about women’s lives.

Of course, he only pretended to care about it because it was a means to help one of his cronies, but it would be nice if some other people asked him about that. Or, if that’s too serious for you, you could head over to Facebook and ask him some questions about lady parts, since he’s such an expert about that. When you get bored with that, mosey on over to the page of Rep. Sid “Patrick” Miller, the “arthur” of the sonogram bill, and poke him with a stick, too. In the grand scheme of things it won’t really accomplish anything, but it’ll make you feel better, and Lord knows these idiots deserve it. Postcards has more.

Who cares about women, anyway?

The state of Texas certainly doesn’t.

If there was any hope that the state was seeking a compromise with the federal government over Texas’ Women’s Health Program, it’s fading fast. At the direction of lawmakers and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Texas Health and Human Services commissioner signed a rule on Thursday that formally bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other “affiliates of abortion providers” from participating in the program — something the Obama administration has said is a deal-breaker for the nearly $40 million-per-year state-federal Medicaid program.

“The Obama administration is trying to force Texas to violate our own state laws or they will end a program that provides preventative health care to more than 100,000 Texas women,” said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. “This boils down to the rule of law — which the state of Texas respects and the Obama administration does not.

The rule, signed by Commissioner Tom Suehs on Thursday, takes effect March 14. Unless some last-minute agreement is brokered, the program, which receives $9 in federal funds for every $1 in state funds, will be either phased out or cut off by the end of March. At least 130,000 poor Texas women will lose access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and contraception.

“No one’s politics should interfere with a woman’s access to health care,” said Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast President and CEO Peter J. Durkin. “It is shameful that Governor Perry and Commissioner Suehs continue to politicize lifesaving breast cancer screenings and birth control access for low-income women.”

Republican lawmakers worked overtime last legislative session to design language that would keep any Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics from receiving state family planning and women’s health dollars, despite the fact that taxpayer-funded clinics may not perform abortions. They got the backing of Abbott, who said their efforts were legal, and gave the state’s health commissioner the go-ahead to implement the new language.

But when Texas was faced with renewing the Women’s Health Program this year, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the state’s plans violated the Social Security Act. They gave the program a three-month extension, but said they had no intention of renewing if Planned Parenthood, which provides 44 percent of the program’s services, was blacklisted.

The stalemate appears unbreakable — Republican lawmakers have made clear they’d rather forgo the program and the federal money than allow Planned Parenthood to participate.

I don’t know how much more evidence you need to conclude that the state’s jihad against Planned Parenthood is about much more than abortion. It’s rich to see Perry and Abbott try to direct what the feds can do with their money, since they get their noses so far out of joint when it’s the other way around. Ironically, this happened on the same day that the state joined a lawsuit challenging the rule that would require all employers to include coverage for contraceptives in employees’ health care benefits. That charge is being led by the Catholic bishops, all of whom as far as I could tell were silent on the prospect of 130,000 women losing access to health care in Texas. As State Rep. Garnet Coleman points out, nearly half of all births in Texas are paid for with Medicaid. What will happen to these women and their babies? The state of Texas and the Catholic bishops don’t care. They have an ideology to pursue.

In related news, a number of people suddenly noticed last week that Texas’ sonogram law is pretty much the same as the one in Virginia that got derailed after drawing national attention. Texas’ law, on the other hand, got little to no national notice despite fierce resistance here from those who saw this law as the degradation and humiliation of women that it is. We can stare at our navels all day trying to figure out why that is, but it’s really not so hard to understand. It’s about winning elections. Until Democrats start winning more of them, and in particular until they win a high profile one because of an issue like this, this is what we’re going to get. As with every other issue we talk about here, nothing changes until the people we elect to our government change. Neil, Rachel, and Burka have more. Be sure to read through the comments for a pained defense of his legislation by Sen. Dan Patrick and some good responses to him.


Rachel brings up a topic that I admit had not occurred to me.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Pinterest.

Chances are, if you’re a woman, your hand is up right now.

Chances are, if you’re a man, you are either rolling your eyes because you’ve heard of it and are sick of hearing about it or you are a little confused.

Pinterest has exploded onto the scene as the new up-and-comer, particularly after it was announced that Pinterest is driving more traffic to websites than Google Plus, You Tube and LinkedIn combined. I’ve been watching the Pinterest frenzy with some interest, as it’s one of the first self-expression networks that women dominated before men even knew what was happening.

Naturally, that has caused some (male) pundits to discount Pinterest’s staying power.

Regardless of where you stand on whether or not Pinterest is the Next Big Thing, there’s no doubt that it’s A Big Thing Right Now which means it’s time for all you politicians to climb on the bandwagon, rosin up your social skills and start putting it to use. Here are a few tips to get you started.

I admit, I knew nothing about Pinterest beyond knowing that it exists and noticing that the only people I knew who seemed to be using it were women. But like Rachel, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of a platform like this for political purposes. Seems to me that in an election year that has been and will be about denying access to birth control, denying access to health care for women by de-funding Planned Parenthood, and generally treating women and their doctors as being incapable of making their own decisions, and given that the voting bloc Democrats need to be bringing to their side are “disproportionately young, female and secular”, it doesn’t take a social media guru to see the possibilities in a female-oriented community whose goal is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting”. Annie’s List, I’m especially looking at you. Here’s one way of doing it, if you can’t think of anything offhand. You’re smart, you can figure it out from there. Everyone knows how to use the tools from the last election. The first people to figure out how to use the tools for the next election will have a huge advantage in it.

On free speech and reproductive rights

I must say, I was a bit flummoxed by this story.

The City of Austin might repeal a 2-year-old ordinance requiring some facilities that counsel women with unplanned pregnancies to post signs saying they don’t offer abortions or contraceptive services.

The four Austin facilities affected by the ordinance sued the city last fall, saying the ordinance violates their constitutional rights.

City attorneys are urging the City Council to repeal the ordinance at Thursday’s council meeting “to avoid further litigation costs” and because similar laws have been struck down in other cities, according to a written summary of their recommendation.

Bill Spelman, the council member who led the charge to enact the ordinance, is proposing that the council revise, not repeal, it.

“This is a consumer awareness issue,” Spelman said in an email. “I still believe that it is important for women to have as much information about these businesses as possible, and I believe the changes I’m proposing will provide women information as well as satisfying the legal issues that have come up since (the council) passed the original ordinance” in April 2010 .

The ordinance requires pregnancy resource centers that don’t offer or refer clients to abortions or birth control to display entrance signs in English and Spanish noting the lack of those services.

So, it’s perfectly constitutional for the state to compel doctors to show a sonogram they don’t want to show to a patient who doesn’t want them to show it to them, but it’s a violation of free speech for the state to require a “clinic” that performs no medical services to clearly state that they perform no medical services? How is that even remotely consistent? I’ve been trying to come up with a righteous rant about this, but in the end I decided it was better just to point you to what Katherine Haenschen said; see also her report on Council’s actions. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go put a helmet on so my head doesn’t explode.

Fifth Circuit tosses injunction against sonogram law


A panel of federal appellate judges has authorized Texas officials to enforce a controversial abortion sonogram law while its constitutionality is being challenged in court.

In an opinion, the judges said the measure’s opponents “failed to demonstrate constitutional flaws” in the measure, which they said was “fatal” to their effort to prevent it from taking effect.

The abortion sonogram law, which lawmakers passed last legislative session, requires doctors to perform sonograms and describe what they see, including the size of the fetus and the length of its limbs. The measure has been in court almost since it passed, with opponents arguing it violates doctors’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to disclose information that isn’t medically necessary and that the woman may not want to hear.

You can read the full opinion here if you have the stomach for it; I’m afraid I don’t right now. I thought Judge Sparks’ ruling was very well reasoned, but apparently the Fifth Circuit is fine with the idea of the state compelling doctors to say things they wouldn’t otherwise in the course of treating a patient. That photo you see of Rep. Carol Alvarado, holding the implement of this law, is a reminder that it’s government intrusion at its most literal. Feel free to wince; I can think of plenty of people who should be wincing right now. BOR has more, and a statement from Peter Durkin of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is beneath the fold.


Sonogram lawsuit appeal

The state’s appeal of the injunction granted against the awful sonogram law was heard in court, but there’s no indication yet when the court will issue a ruling.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t immediately rule on Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell’s request for them to lift a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, Texas.

Sparks ruled in August that several provisions of the state law violated the free-speech rights of abortion-performing doctors.

“Each of these decisions is wrong and should be vacated as an abuse of discretion,” Mitchell said.

A group of medical providers sued to block enforcement of the law, which also requires doctors to describe the fetal heartbeat to a patient before performing an abortion.

“Our argument is that there is nothing in the record and everything to the contrary that this information is medically necessary,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Julie Rikelman, of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.


The judges pressed Rikelman to explain how law exceeds the state’s authority to regulate the medical profession.

“How do you draw the line?” Judge Patrick Higginbotham asked.

“We would draw the line at what is medically necessary,” Rikelman responded. “The government shouldn’t be able to interject itself in our conversations with physicians in that way.”

Sparks has scheduled a Jan. 20 hearing on dueling requests for him to decide the underlying case without a trial. The state has asked Sparks to dismiss the medical providers’ claims, while the plaintiffs are seeking an order that would permanently bar the state from enforcing portions of the law.

The state asked the appeals court to rule before Judge Sparks does, but they didn’t say what they would do. We’ll know soon enough. As noted before, these lawsuits are different than previous ones relating to abortion legislation in that they make a free speech argument, which Judge Sparks largely accepted. There’s always a risk in trying something new, but so far so good for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Sonogram law still blocked


The Texas sonogram law, that was ruled unconstitutional before it could go into effect, will stay in legal limbo for the time being.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ordered the main provisions of the law were improper because they forced speech upon doctors, who could lose their license to practice medicine, if they failed to tell patients certain information — even if the women didn’t want to hear it or didn’t medically need it.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to allow the law to go into effect pending appeals and on Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, acting on behalf of the high court, also refused to lift the lower court order.


The case, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, is still in Sparks court. While a temporary restraining order has been instituted, a final decision on the validity of the law is still pending.

See here for more on Judge Sparks’ ruling. No word on when there will be a final judgment, with the inevitable appeal to follow. The Trib has more.

Injunction granted against sonogram law

Very good news.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks issued a preliminary injunction after finding that portions of the sonogram law, set to take effect Sept. 1, were unconstitutionally vague and violated the First Amendment by improperly requiring doctors and patients to engage in government-mandated speech.

“The act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen,” Sparks wrote.

Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately filed notice that he intends to appeal the ruling.

The ruling is here, and I recommend you take the time to read it; skip over the part about class action certification, which as Burka says is tedious, and just got to the good stuff that follows. Judge Sparks denied most of the plaintiff’s claims about vagueness of the law, but the real meat is in the First Amendment discussion at the end. And of course, this being Judge Sparks, there’s a bit of quality snark in there, as he observes in a footnote: “It is ironic that many of the same people who zealously defend the state’s righteous duty to become intimately involved in a woman’s decision to get an abortion are also positively scandalized at the government’s gross overreaching in the area of health care.” Not to mention the freakout over potential junk-touching by TSA. I for one will not be surprised to see this one on SCOTUS’ docket some day. Trail Blazers and Hair Balls have more, and a statement from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped represent the plaintiffs in this case, is here.

UPDATE: The Observer reminds us that while this ruling is good news, there’s a whole lot of bad about to come down on women and women’s health services, especially Planned Parenthood.

Opening arguments in the sonogram lawsuit

No clear indications about how the judge might rule, but there are a few straws in the wind.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, however, indicated some discomfort with portions of the bill that critics consider vague, particularly as physicians could go to jail or lose their medical licenses if they run afoul of the law. Sparks said he would rule before compliance of the new law kicks in Sept. 1.

This is just a ruling on the motion for an injunction that would prevent the new law from taking effect until a ruling is made on the merits of the case.

The Austin-based judge appeared uncomfortable with language in House Bill 15 suggesting that doctors provide explanations “understandable to a lay person” and poking fun at the “everybody knows that” response.

The Trib delves more deeply into the “vagueness” issue, while Hair Balls outlines the unexpected strategy of the plaintiffs.

Most challenges to informed consent laws involve the “undue burden” test, which says that requiring a doctor to perform and discuss a sonogram before an abortion, and possibly wait 24 hours before performing the procedure, is too onerous.

Abortion providers in this case, represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, are arguing completely different points: that the guidelines set out in the Woman’s Right to Know Act are confusing and vague; that it violates the doctor’s free speech rights with its prescriptive nature; and that the procedure put a reproductive rights burden on women that is not extended to men.

After spending a number of questions trying to pin down lead attorney Bebe Anderson on which specific clauses in the law were unconstitutional, and establishing that undue burden was not a cause of action, Sparks admitted he was a bit perplexed with the parameters of the case.

“I don’t know what this lawsuit is all about,” Sparks admitted. “I thought I knew, but after the statement of the plaintiffs, I’m not so sure.”

Judge Sparks has asked for each side to submit more briefs in the next two weeks, so there will be more to discuss later.

Back to the Chron:

Sparks noted he spent 30 years defending doctors and hospitals while practicing law in El Paso before President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the federal court. He said it seemed obvious that the purpose of the bill was to limit abortions.

[Texas assistant attorney general Erika] Kane, however, said the purpose is “to provide more information to women prior to the procedure.”

Perhaps Ms. Kane should check with Dan Patrick about that, since he says this law is “the beginning of the end for abortion”. I’m sure he’d say that he believes that the more “information” that the state “provides” to women, by force if necessary, the less they’ll choose to go ahead with the abortion. But if fear and inconvenience contribute to that, I doubt he’d be unhappy about it. Note that the bill contained numerous severability clauses, so if Judge Sparks strikes down some parts of it, the rest of the law can still stand. The inevitable appeal will then go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Preliminary injunction motion filed against sonogram law

We’ll see how it fares.

Pro-choice activists filed a motion Thursday to halt the state’s new law requiring women seeking abortion to view a sonogram of the fetus.

The NY-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed the preliminary injunction request in federal court Thursday, arguing the law shouldn’t go into effect on Sept. 1, as currently planned, until a judge rules that it doesn’t violate medical ethics rules and patients’ rights.

“The Center argues that the ultrasound requirements violate the First Amendment rights of both the doctor and the patient by forcing physicians to deliver politically-motivated communications to women, regardless of their wishes,” said Maxine Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Center.

The group had filed a lawsuit hoping to get the new law ruled unconstitutional on June 13. They have also launched a website to rally opposition to the law.


In a statement filed with the injunction, San Antonio Physician Alan Braid said the new law is confusing on multiple fronts for abortion providers such as him

“My job is not to make the patient feel guilty about her choice or force information on her that she does not want; my job is to care for the patient, act in her best interests, and respect her autonomy,” Braid writes. “To provide her information that she does not want and that may cause her harm is certainly against my oath as a physician to ‘do no harm.'”

Yeah, well, Dan Patrick doesn’t care about any dead ancient Greek guy. Here’s some background on the lawsuit. The following is from an email sent out by Maxine Mitchell from the Center for Reproductive Rights:

I’m writing to let you know that today the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a preliminary injunction motion in our case challenging Texas’ sonogram abortion law. We are asking that the court block enforcement of the law until the case is resolved.

Linked here is the brief. I have also attached the document in PDF.

District Court Judge Sam Sparks will be presiding over the case.

The Center filed a class action lawsuit against the new ultrasound requirements on behalf of Texas medical providers performing abortions and their patients. The law prohibits a woman from getting an abortion unless the doctor providing the abortion performs an ultrasound on the woman, takes steps to show and describe the ultrasound images to her, and plays the sound of the fetal heart.

The Center argues that the ultrasound requirements violate the First Amendment rights of both the doctor and the patient by forcing physicians to deliver politically-motivated communications to women, regardless of their wishes. The Center also argues that the law discriminates against women by subjecting them to paternalistic “protections” not imposed on men.

Here’s that PDF. I Am Not A Lawyer, but my understanding is that granting a preliminary injunction like this, which simply asks that the new law not be enforced until there has been a ruling in the lawsuit, is fairly routine and doesn’t have any predictive value for the suit itself. If the injunction isn’t granted, of course, that doesn’t bode well for the plaintiffs. Postcards has more.

Lawsuit filed against sonogram bill


The Center for Reproductive Rights, a national abortion-rights advocacy group, has filed suit over Texas’ newly-signed abortion sonogram law, alleging it violates the First Amendment rights of the doctor and the patient.


The suit, Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services. v. Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey, alleges that the sonogram requirement violates the constitutional rights of both the doctor and the patient by “forcing physicians to deliver politically-motivated communications to women regardless of the woman’s wishes.” The Center for Reproductive Rights also charges that the law discriminates against women by “subjecting them to paternalistic ‘protections’ not imposed on men.”

The challenge was filed in U.S. District Court in Austin.

The CRR’s press release is here, and documents related to the suit are here. Anyone more lawyerly than me want to take a crack at predicting the outcome? Leave a comment if you do. Postcards has more.

It’s different when it’s his junk that’s getting touched

Oh, the irony.

The senator was in high dudgeon. “This was a come and take it moment for the state of Texas!” Dan Patrick proclaimed, trying to rally his fellow senators to stand up against the Feds, those high-handed intruders who had threatened to sue the state of Texas if Patrick’s “intrusive touching” bill became law.

To his dismay, though, the Houston lawmaker was left to face the Feds alone, abandoned not only by his fellow senators but by the lieutenant governor himself. Patrick ended up withdrawing House Bill 1937 from further consideration.

“It’s great when your lieutenant governor works against your bill while you’re on the floor,” Patrick muttered as he stalked off the Senate floor. (The lieutenant governor, of course, had a different view of the matter).

The little state/federal drama started late Tuesday night when Patrick assured Dewhurst he had the votes to bring up his bill, which would prohibit “intrusive touching” at airports and other public buildings. Patrick said the legislation, co-sponsored by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, was designed to prevent security screeners from touching the genitals and other private parts when people go through checkpoints. He said the bill would classify certain invasive and inappropriate conduct used in certain searches as official oppression, a crime under Texas law.

So just to review, it’s perfectly fine for the state of Texas to require a doctor to shove a probe up a woman’s vagina before she’s allowed to have an abortion, but it’s official oppression if a TSA screener accidentally brushes a hand on Dan Patrick’s wee-wee while searching for explosives before he boards a plane. Maybe if we made TSA screeners have a sonogram before being allowed to touch anyone’s junk, that would solve the problem. Patrick’s subsequent freakout, blaming Dewhurst for the bill’s death, and the lunatic mob that showed up prepared to defend their own naughty bits against federal incursion just adds to the utter bizarreness of this episode. The Trib, Postcards, and In the Pink, which was thinking along the same lines as I was, have more.

Planned Parenthood roundup

As you know, it’s been a truly crappy year for women’s health, family planning, and Planned Parenthood. All over the country there has been a relentless assault on reproductive freedom, which has spilled over into health care and access to health care, mostly for women. We’ve certainly seen it here in Texas between the House budget and its zeroing out of family planning funds and the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. It’s shameful and harmful and in the end will cost the state more money than they could possibly cut from the already meager budget, but none of that matters to this misogynistic crowd.

I’m glad to see that Planned Parenthood is fighting back, but let’s be honest, the legislative battle is pretty much over save perhaps for a point of order or some other rulebook jujitsu. What matters now is winning the next election and sweeping as many of these troglodytes out of office. I had the good fortune last week to attend the Planned Parenthood Action Fund annual luncheon with a number of my blogging colleagues, and we were heartened to hear featured speaker and nationally known pollster Celinda Lake talk about how out of touch with the mainstream these radical actions are. But none of that means anything if those of us who care about it don’t show up and vote accordingly. So if you sat it out last November, or if you voted Republican but without intending to send a “defund Planned Parenthood and cripple family planning and women’s health” message, it’s on you this time to not do that again. We can’t afford any more of it.

With that, let me present a roundup of what was written about that luncheon. Lots of good stuff here from:

Nonsequiteuse, and Nonsequiteuse again.
Texas Liberal
Brains and Eggs
Hair Balls
Katrina Esco
Bay Area Houston

You should also read this AusChron story about what’s been going on in the Lege with family planning and reproductive freedom. If you’re not mad after reading all this, you need to get your blood pressure checked.

Finally, today is Texas Stands with Planned Parenthood Day of Action. It’s probably a little late to get in on some of the action, but click on to see what you can do today and going forward. We need everyone to be involved.


Modified sonogram bill passes the Senate

I was hoping that the differences between the House and Senate sonogram bills would ultimately sink them, but alas it is not to be.

Senate lawmakers have tentatively passed a controversial measure to require women seeking abortions to receive sonograms — and have the details of the fetus described to them — prior to the procedure. Pending a final vote tomorrow, the bill will head back to the House so the lower chamber can sign off on the Senate’s changes.

The vote on House Bill 15 came after compromise was reached on the biggest point of contention — whether women seeking abortions should be required to have a sonogram 24 hours in advance, or two hours in advance. Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who has the largest district geographically, feared a 24-hour waiting period would be a hardship for rural women living in his district. He agreed to uphold the 24-hour waiting period approved by the House, as long as women who live at least 100 miles away from the nearest abortion provider, or live in counties with a population of 60,000 or less, are given a two-hour waiting period. (Nearly 94 percent of Texas women live in counties with more than 60,000 people.)

Remember, this was an “emergency” legislative item. Thank you so much, Sen. Uresti, for selling out 94% of the women in Texas.

House passes sonogram bill

Passing the bill was a formality at this point, but getting one chamber’s bill through the other may be problematic.

The House’s measure will now be sent to a Senate committee. The Senate’s version that was sent to the House has yet to be referred to committee.

Both authors, Rep. Sid Miller in the House and Sen. Dan Patrick in the Senate, have said they will not budge.

“Somebody has to blink,” Miller said. “It’s a stare down at this point.”

Patrick promised his fellow senators during the Senate’s sonogram debate that he would not accept a House version that was either “watered-down” or “on steroids.”

Miller said that he does not think that the two hour waiting period after the woman has the sonogram, which the Senate bill would require, is sufficient. He said the 24 hour waiting period in the House bill would allow the woman to “pray about it or visit with her family.”

He also said he would not consider creating an exception for women who were victims of rape or incest. The Senate bill has such exceptions.

Who could have ever guessed that a bill like this would come down to a macho staring contest? Obviously, the best outcome is for Miller and Patrick to act like a pair of Zaxes for the rest of the session so that neither bill ever passes, but I don’t have much faith in that happening. One way or another, I expect one or both of them to be forced to give in and compromise. But in the meantime, allow me to say “Hold your ground, gentlemen! Compromise is for wussies and losers! Stand firm and don’t let that other fellow run you over! It’s a matter of principle!” Hey, it’s worth a shot.

Sonogram bill passes the House

It was inevitable.

Flexing their super-majority muscle in the Texas House, Republican lawmakers swatted away a swarm of amendments offered by the Democratic minority on Thursday and gave preliminary approval to a House version of a bill requiring doctors to perform a sonogram on women requesting an abortion. Declared an emergency by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, the measure passed by a vote of 103 to 42.

House Bill 15, sponsored by state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, requires a doctor performing an abortion to conduct the sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure was to take place. The doctor also is required to show the woman the sonogram image, play the sound of the fetal heartbeat for her and describe in some detail the image that appears on the sonogram. The woman does not have to view the sonogram or hear the heartbeat, although she still would have to hear the doctor’s description.

Miller’s bill is a more stringent version of Senate Bill 16, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, which passed two weeks ago. Patrick’s bill, approved by a vote of 21-10, requires the sonogram to be performed within two hours of the abortion. It also makes an exception for women who have been the victim of rape or incest or where the fetus has fatal abnormalities. The House version does not allow exceptions.

There were many amendments proposed by Democrats along the way, ostensibly to weaken or kill the bill, but given the political reality mostly to point out just how absurd this thing is. For example:

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, offered an amendment that would, in the event that a woman decided to carry her child to term after undergoing a sonogram as required by the bill, require the state to pay for that child’s college tuition. When that didn’t work, Dutton proposed that the state pay for the child’s health care until age 18. That failed, too. He followed up with a similar amendment that only went up to age 6, but with no more success.

Dutton told the members that such amendments signaled that the state feels less responsibility to children after they are born. “We want to see all these children around, but the state of Texas ends its obligation to that child when it’s born,” he said. “We want it born, but we don’t want to do our duty.”

The jokes about how Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth get less funny every day, don’t they? Here’s another:

As the debate on sonograms for women seeking abortions hit the four and a half hour mark, Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, offered an amendment that shook up the House and changed some alliances.

For all the hours before, Republicans stuck together and kept the votes along partisan lines. But Marquez offered something that had most of the women — Republicans and Democrats — clapping.

Her amendment said that if a pregnant woman has a sonogram before an abortion and decides to keep the baby, then she can take out a court order to mandate the baby’s father undergo a vasectomy — if he has caused two other pregnancies outside of marriage.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Marquez said.

“I’ll have to draw the line and say no more cuts,” sonogram bill sponsor Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, quipped.

Sure, because this is all about the women, who shouldn’t have gotten themselves pregnant in the first place, am I right?

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the House version of this bill won’t pass the Senate as is.

Patrick acknowledged that the discrepancies between the two bills could be a problem. State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, whose district reaches into the far reaches of West Texas, agreed with Patrick. He sponsored a successful amendment to Patrick’s Senate bill to reduce the amount of time between the sonogram and the abortion procedure.

“The 24-hour waiting period in the House bill would be a tremendous imposition on women in my district because of its vast size and the limited availability of medical facilities,” Uresti said. “If the bill returns to the Senate in its current form, I intend to stand firm on the Senate amendments that limited the waiting period to two hours, struck the provision requiring a woman to provide documentation about being raped and restored the ability of doctors to communicate with their patients by telephone.”

Try not to dislocate your shoulder while you pat yourself on the back, Sen. Uresti. The fact that the Senate bill is a tiny bit less ugly than the House bill doesn’t change the fundamental nature of its ugliness, or the fact that you could have done a whole lot more to prevent this assault on women’s rights.

There’s not much else to say about this right now, but there will be plenty more to say next year, that’s for sure. Stace, nonsequiteuse, and BOR have more.

Sonogram bill delayed in the House

Delayed for a day, at least.

House lawmakers today launched into debate over their version of an abortion sonogram bill — one that is more stringent than the measure that passed the Senate last month. But after hours of delays over technicalities, lawmakers voted to send the bill back to committee, with the goal of bringing it back to the floor tomorrow.

HB 15, authored by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, would require a doctor performing an abortion to conduct a sonogram on the woman at least 24 hours ahead of the procedure. (The Senate version sets a two-hour mandate.)

The doctor would also show the woman the sonogram image, play the audible heartbeat for her and describe what appears on the sonogram, including the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of arms or legs. (In the Senate version, the woman would be able to opt out of viewing the sonogram or hearing the heartbeat, though she’d still have to hear the description. In the House version, there’s no penalty if the woman opts out of viewing the sonogram or hearing the heartbeat.)

While the House bill excepts women experiencing a medical emergency, it makes no exception for women who have been the victim of rape or incest, which the Senate version does.

The “technicality” in question was related to a point of order.

The point of order was raised on House Bill 15 because the Committee Chair took testimony on the issue, but not on the actual bill. Those who testified on the bill testified on the topic, or “matter” of the bill, and once their testimony was over, the bills were laid out. This goes against years of House precedent, where a bill is laid out and then testimony is taken on the specific legislation. Additionally, the initial ruling on the Chair, which is currently being revisited, suggested that House Chairs would no longer have to follow the five-day posting requirement in order to hear testimony on a “matter” the Committee has jurisdiction over.

By rewriting the rules, House Republicans are side-stepping the established and essential witness process for bills. Removing the public testimony on all legislation would be a grave and dangerous precedent for House Republicans to establish, and would seriously undermine the open government process Democrats have fought for years to protect.

That point of order, raised by Reps. Yvonne Davis and Trey Martinez-Fischer, was upheld, so back to committee it goes. I don’t know if this means that there will be further testimony – you would have to think so, or else the underlying issue would seem to be unresolved. We’ll see. In the meantime, kudos to State Rep. Carol Alvarado for clearly demonstrating just how literally intrusive this abominable bill will be, and remember that if people like Rep. Sid Miller really cared about saving lives, he’d support more spending on contraception, which would also save money in the long run on health care and reduce the number of abortions, too. But that’s not what this is all about, so never mind.

UPDATE: Christy Hoppe has a good explanation of what happened with the point of order.

Sonogram bill coming up for a vote

Sen. Dan Patrick’s “I know what’s best for you ladies” sonogram bill SB16 is on the schedule for today. I had previously expressed pessimism that there was anything to be done to prevent its passage based on the expected support of Democratic Sens. Lucio and Zaffirini, but it has since occurred to me that Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who has a pro-choice history, is not a guaranteed vote to allow it to come to the floor. If that’s so, then if the rest of the Democratic Senate caucus sticks together, this can be blocked. That would require Sen. Carlos Uresti, who is currently playing it coy, to do the right thing. If you’re a constituent of Sen. Uresti’s, this morning would be a good time to give his office a call at (512) 463-0119 and ask him to please vote against SB16. In a year where Democratic values and women’s rights are under unprecedented assault from an increasingly radicalized Republican Party, that vote really matters.

UPDATE: The bill passed the Senate, with Uresti voting to suspend the rules after getting a minor amendment passed. I’m not happy about this.

Sonogram bill passes out of committee

As expected.

One of Gov. Rick Perry’s designated “emergency” pieces of legislation cleared an early hurdle on Wednesday when the Senate State Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that would require a physician to perform a sonogram on a pregnant woman at least 24 hours before performing an abortion.

The bill passed on a 7-2 vote, with Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, dissenting. It is likely to be heard by the full Senate as early as next week.

And barring anything unusual, it will be passed. I had wondered if there were enough Democratic votes to prevent it from coming to the floor, but with Sens. Lucio and Zaffirini in favor of it, the answer is no. I don’t see anything stopping it.

In its original form, doctors would be required to perform a sonogram, explain the procedure as it is performed and require a woman see the image and hear the heartbeat of the fetus. That version contained language that allowed a woman to “avert her eyes” if she chose.

A committee substitute introduced Wednesday would not compel the doctor to perform the sonogram or detect a heartbeat if a woman’s pregnancy was the result of sexual assault or incest or if the fetus has an “irreversible medical condition or abnormality.”

In any circumstance, the doctor and the woman cannot be prosecuted for the woman’s decision not to see the sonogram or hear the heartbeat.

“This is an issue about empowering women,” said [bill sponsor Sen. Dan] Patrick, an outspoken abortion opponent. “What this bill does is remove the barrier that is placed in front of women now from getting information they’re entitled to.”

No, it’s about shaming them, which Patrick hopes will lead to fewer abortions. If he could have passed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to write 100 times on a blackboard “I am a bad person and I should be ashamed of myself”, he’d do it. This was the next best thing. Patrick and his ilk think these women are ignorant victims who are being duped by unscrupulous doctors. This is why anti-abortion legislation never holds the women responsible for getting an abortion they’re trying to make illegal even though they say it’s murder. In the case of this bill, the only penalty provided is that the doctor could be subject to losing his or her license if they fail to show the sonogram. Shouldn’t “empowerment” imply some kind of responsibility? It would if that’s what this were really about, but it’s not.

I’ve no doubt that Sen. Patrick is sincere in his desire to reduce the number of abortions in Texas. It may surprise him to know that I share that goal. It’s just that I would go about it by trying to reduce the number of unintended and unwanted pregnancies. That means a greater investment in making contraception more accessible and affordable, better and more comprehensive sex education, ensuring prenatal care is more available and affordable, and ensuring the social safety net is strong, since people do take financial factors into account when they consider their options. (It’s expensive to be pregnant, birth a child, and rear it, in case you hadn’t heard.) That would require spending some money, which outside of making other people spend theirs on unnecessary sonograms, the Senator is not inclined to do. It’s true that my method would not eliminate the need for abortions. But then, neither will Sen. Patrick’s. Even if he someday succeeds in his goal of outlawing them completely, women will still get them, one way or another, just as they did before Roe v. Wade. At least my way would have the ancillary benefit of improving women’s health overall. Other than maybe sonogram machine manufacturers, I don’t know who will benefit from SB16. Katherine Hanschen has more.

It’s going to be a misogynistic year

It already has been, unfortunately. Here’s Gail Collins on the recent efforts by some right wing activists who are targeting Planned Parenthood:

The people trying to put Planned Parenthood out of business do not seem concerned about what would happen to the 1.85 million low-income women who get family-planning help and medical care at the clinics each year. It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan.

“I haven’t seen that they want to propose an alternative,” said [Planned Parenthood president Cecile] Richards.

There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.

There is no comparable organization to Planned Parenthood, providing the same kind of services on a national basis. If there were, most of the women eligible for Medicaid-financed family-planning assistance wouldn’t have to go without it.

That’s because the people doing this and the legislators who enable them don’t care about that. The hostility they have towards women is shocking. Kaili Joy Grey summarizes some of that hostility:

[A]s Republicans have gained greater control of elected offices at the federal and state levels, we are witnessing the concerted effort to undo the very legislation intended to protect women’s health, lives, and livelihood. Even as Republicans offer empty platitudes about equality and feminism, their agenda to legislate women into second-class citizenship has never been clearer.

One of the major battles for Republicans is equal pay. Last year, Senate Republicans voted to blockthe Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have expanded and improved the protections of the 45-year-old Equal Pay Act. Republicans made clear at the time that they were far more concerned with protecting employers from costly litigation than with ensuring that employers are not allowed to discriminate against women.

Now, Republicans in Minnesota are taking this argument one step further, by proposing legislation to repeal existing laws to enforce equal pay for women because it’s just too expensive for small businesses and local governments to ensure that women are paid equally. And besides, they argue, such enforcement is no longer necessary because the pay gap has been all but eradicated.

It’s a lie, of course. The pay gap still exists. In Minnesota, for example, in both the private and public sectors, the gap between men and women’s pay ranges from 24 to 49 percent.

Critics of equity laws argue that the pay gap isn’t real because women choose lower-paying jobs. That too is a lie. Even within the same professions, the pay gap between men and women is real and significant. An extensive new study found that in the medical field, female doctors earn nearly $17,000 less than their male counterparts. To compare, the pay gap for doctors in 1999 was $3,600. That pay gap is real, and it is getting worse.


What has received far less attention this week is a new bill introduced by State Representative Bobby Franklin in the Georgia State Legislature:

To amend Titles 16 and 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to criminal law and criminal procedure, respectively, so as to change the term “victim” to the term “accuser” in the context of a number of statutes making reference to circumstances where there has not yet been a criminal conviction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

The law would apply to victims of stalking, rape, and domestic violence, crimes in which the vast majority of victims are women and the perpetrators are men. As the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee explained:

Burglary victims are still victims. Assault victims are still victims. Fraud victims are still victims. But if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you’ve been victimized. He says you’re an accuser until the courts have determined otherwise.

To diminish a victim’s ordeal by branding him/her an accuser essentially questions whether the crime committed against the victim is a crime at all. Robbery, assault, and fraud are all real crimes with real victims, the Republican asserts with this bill.

Republicans have, for years, attempted to redefine what constitutes “real” rape and not-really rape, or as Kristen Schall on the Daily Show called it, rape-ish. In 2006, South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli made news when he described what he considered a legitimate exception to the sweeping new abortion bill that would not permit exceptions even for rape or incest:

A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Brutal rape. Forcible rape. Rape of a religious virgin who intends to save herself for marriage. These are the rape victims accusers deemed valid by the Republican ideology that presumes rape victims are guilty until proven innocent. While such proposed legislation has not yet become the law of the land, the idea that rape victims accusers are responsible for their own assault has taken firm root in our discourse about violence against women.

This is in addition to another bill, HR 358, which would allow hospitals to refuse treatment to a woman who might need a pregnancy terminated, even if doing so could result in the woman’s death. Think it could never come to that? The state of Idaho has already refused to sanction a pharmacist who refused to fill an emergency prescription because the requester didn’t give in to his demand to know if the woman who needed the prescription had had an abortion.

I have always found stuff like this to be shocking, repugnant, and deeply puzzling, but it takes on a new urgency for me these days as a father of two little girls. How am I supposed to protect them from that? I can’t, of course. But I can teach them to fight back against it, and that’s very much what I intend to do.

By the way, those jokers who did that undercover videotaping of the Planned Parenthood employees? They altered the audio on their tape to make the employee look worse. This is not the first time these folks have done that, either. Why is it that they are granted any credibility by mainstream news outlets?

And finally, the Senate this week takes up the Governor’s “emergency” sonogram legislation, which is designed primarily to make women who are having an abortion feel bad about it. The thing to watch is whether the Senate Democrats refuse to vote to suspend the rules to let the bill come to the floor. There are nine sure votes against bringing it up; the Senators I’m uncertain about are Carlos Uresti, Eddie Lucio, and Judith Zaffirini. If two of them vote against suspending the rules, the bill will be stopped. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be attached to some other bill later as an amendment, of course. But keep an eye on the voting for this one, it’s by no means guaranteed to pass.