Planned Parenthood protest against Texas sonogram bill

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by SOMMER INGRAM

Associated Press

Posted on March 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 8 at 9:46 PM

AUSTIN (AP) — A day after losing a fight over a bill that would give Texas some of the strictest abortion rules in the country, House Democrats stood Tuesday with Planned Parenthood advocates working against a barrage of legislative attempts to weaken their programs.

Hundreds of supporters rallied at the Capitol, saying they were angry with state lawmakers for endangering women's health care and family planning. The legislation approved Monday requires women to get sonograms before an abortion, and recently approved Medicaid limits would leave many of the organization's patients without access to birth control and health screenings.

"This is basic, preventative health care," said Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Texas Capital Region. "We do more to prevent the need for abortion than any program in the United States."

Planned Parenthood has been under fire from conservative lawmakers in recent weeks, as nationwide attempts to decrease abortions and cut funding for family planning programs gain momentum.

Despite Democratic attempts to derail the Texas sonogram legislation, the bill cleared the House floor Monday on a procedural vote. Republican Gov. Rick Perry designated the legislation as a priority early in the legislative session.

Democratic leaders acknowledged their loss, but were satisfied with the pressure they put on conservative, anti-abortion legislators.

"They're scratched, they're marked, and we didn't go down without a fight," said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who led the fight against the legislation in the House, where Republicans hold a 101-49 majority.

The bill would require that pregnant women have the opportunity to view the sonogram image, hear the fetal heartbeat and listen to a doctor describe the characteristics of the fetus. While the doctor is required to provide the information, the woman can close her eyes or cover her ears. The bill doesn't exempt victims of rape, incest or sexual abuse.

The Senate passed a less-restrictive version of the legislation last month.

The Republican supermajority in the Texas Legislature characterizes the measure as a necessity to ensure women get accurate information before choosing to end a life.

But critics, including Planned Parenthood, say it is an intrusive measure designed to shame women who are considering abortion.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said he would join forces with any lawmaker to reduce the number of abortions in Texas, but this type of legislation is not the way to achieve it.

"It was a lonely, difficult place to be last week on the House floor," he said. "What passed the House was a terrible bill. It's not compassionate, conservative or right."

The sonogram bill is the latest in a series of measures that target Planned Parenthood or strip it of federal funding.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last month upheld a ban approved by lawmakers on funding abortion provider affiliates. The opinion effectively prohibits Planned Parenthood from receiving public funding through Medicaid programs.

Planned Parenthood officials said the ban leaves its patients, many of whom are poor and uninsured, without access to breast and cervical screenings, birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health services.

The Republican-dominated U.S. House voted last month to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, although the measure is expected to fail in the U.S. Senate.

Advocates at the Texas Capitol were outraged by legislative decisions at state and national levels, yet determined not to let lawmakers dismantle health care programs from Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.

"We cannot let ideology get in the way of sound public health policy," said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. "That message needs to be permeated throughout this Capitol."

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