This week, anti-choice Texas legislators finally showed their cards. Perhaps they didn’t mean to–after all, it’s hard to watch your hand when you and your buddies are busy patting each other on the back for all your hard work legislating against women. During Monday’s smug, self-congratulating second reading of House Bill 15 (in Texas, bills are “read” three times before they’re passed), Dan Patrick, a Republican talk radio host from Houston, may not have realized how much he slipped when he said he liked the bill because of its power in “addressing the needs of the members in the House and the Senate.”
In fact, Patrick really nailed it there. The “informed consent” HB 15 very well addresses the needs of Texas politicians–at the expense of the needs of Texas women. The bill would require abortion-seeking women to hear a description of a sonogram and wait 24 hours between that sonogram and their procedure, among other restrictive stipulations. But that’s all standard “informed consent” protocol, which often allows legislators to hide their political intentions behind save-the-fickle-women-from-themselves rhetoric. But now, a compromise struck between Dan Patrick and Senator Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio, shows very clearly how lawmakers are more concerned with scoring votes than giving women the information they need.
The compromise is this: Uresti lent his support to HB 15 only when legislators agreed to exempt some rural-dwelling women, many of whom are included in his constituency, from the 24-hour wait period. The Uresti compromise allows women who live in counties with a population of less than 60,000 or who live more than 100 miles from a licensed abortion provider to wait only two hours between their sonogram and their procedure. So, legislators either believe that Texas women who would be required to undergo the 24-hour wait period–well over 90 percent–would need more “informed consent” than others, or they’re negotiating with women’s lives, bodies and health to score votes and save political face.
Sara Cleveland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, believes it’s the latter.
“The arbitrary exceptions and political carve-outs to the legislation demonstrate that this bill is not about ‘informed consent,’” she wrote in an e-mail to RHRC, “but rather a lack of trust in women to make the best decision for themselves and their families.”
Patrick acknowledged that women in rural areas would face a hardship in securing an overnight stay if required to adhere to the 24-hour rule. But when it comes to hardship, why exceptions for some women and not others? Why a geographical exception and not, say, an exception for women without access to a car or time off from their jobs? That’s what Democrat Senator Wendy Davis, asked Patrick on the Senate floor Monday. She bombarded the anti-choice legislator with a series of cutting remarks, but perhaps none better than her assertion that Patrick’s reasoning “wasn’t that we feel these women shouldn’t be informed, it’s that for political reasons to pass the bill, we created some exceptions.”
But Patrick didn’t want to discuss exceptions for women without cars or time off. “We could discuss this late into the night,” Patrick told Davis during the debate. Patrick was repeatedly asked for medical or scientific studies that demonstrated waiting periods and sonogram descriptions improved women’s psychological or physical health, another benefit that he has said waiting periods and sonogram descriptions would provide. But Patrick offered only that he had heard “testimony” in the past that this was the case.
The Uresti compromise is particularly disturbing in light of statements made during the debate by Sen. Patrick to the effect that he believes some women do not realize that abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. Part of HB 15′s purpose, according to the bill’s
wording, is to “allow [a pregnant woman] to consider the impact an abortion would have on her unborn child.” He told the Senate floor that he believed there are “some” women who do not understand that abortion will end pregnancy, because “books have been written” about the subject. He speculated that as many as one quarter of the estimated 75,000 women who get abortions in Texas each year may not have “that information” about abortion. Patrick must believe that those uninformed women are not in the group who he has arbitrarily exempted from the 24-hour wait period.
For Carlos Uresti and Dan Patrick, then, women’s lives are little more than chips on the poker table–that is, until we see the study that proves rural women are somehow naturally better informed than their more urban counterparts. Until then–and this legislative session has shown how little interest Dan Patrick has in scientific studies–we have to assume that none of this is about bettering the lives of women or, in anti-choice terms, even of unborn children. It’s about Texas legislators keeping their cushy offices down in Austin. Good news for legislators, then–after HB15′s more or less formal, procedural third reading on Tuesday, it’ll almost certainly be turned into law.”