HOUSTON --If you want to know the power behind a sonogram, look no further than a side street just off the Gulf Freeway.
Right behind the Houston headquarters of Planned Parenthood, abortion opponents with the Houston Coalition for Life routinely park a blue bus equipped with ultrasound equipment. Volunteers standing on the street hand out coupons offering free sonograms, hoping women seeking abortions will first stop by their bus for an ultrasound and some literature that they hope will discourage women from having abortions.
“Every woman, before an abortion, needs to be aware of what’s going on in her womb,” said Christine Melchor, the group’s executive director. “She needs to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what she’s about to do.”
They’re true believers, convinced that women who see sonograms are much less likely to have abortions. So they’re delighted Texas has adopted a so-called “sonogram law.” But even they believe the law, which takes effect on Thursday, won’t be implemented for a long time to come.
The controversial law, passed after passionate debate in the last session of the Texas Legislature, requires doctors to perform sonograms on women before performing abortions, and then give the patient the option of looking at the image. It also requires doctors to describe the fetus in great detail—telling the patients about its hands and feet—and play audio of the heartbeat.
Supporters cast it as an informed consent law empowering women by giving them access to more information about a life-altering surgical procedure. Opponents criticize it as an unwarranted government intrusion into the relationship between a doctor and a patient. Both sides agreed that it would probably lead many women to abandon the notion of getting an abortion.
Inevitably, opponents of the law are challenging it in federal court. The case could easily end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Even if it doesn’t go that far, legal experts believe the challenges may not be resolved for years to come.
“There are several of these sonogram laws across the country,” said Gerald Treece, KHOU’s legal analyst and a dean of the South Texas College of Law. “It could go well into 2013.”
If U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks issues an injunction, Treece predicts he’ll probably wait until Sept. 1, when the law is supposed to take effect.
Planned Parenthood leaders also expect an injunction blocking enforcement of the law as it winds its way through the court system. Even if there’s no injunction, they don’t have to begin complying with the law until Oct. 1.
But they say they’re still making plans, just in case the law takes effect. They already perform sonograms on every woman asking for an abortion, so there’s no need to acquire any new equipment.
“But the law also requires that the physician that performs the abortion is the same physician who provides the ultrasound,” said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. “And so there is a matter of getting all that. It’s really requiring a lot of barriers and a lot of jumping through extra hoops that are just completely unnecessary.”
Still, activists on both sides of the issue are convinced the sonogram law won’t become a reality anytime soon.
“Quite frankly, we’re not real optimistic about it going into effect,” said Judy Vatterott of Life Advocates, another group that supports the law.
Just like the abortion opponents on the bus, Vatterott’s group offers free sonograms, believing that showing images of fetuses to expectant mothers will turn most of them against abortion.
If you’d like to read the text of the law, here’s a link to a copy of the bill passed by the Texas Legislature.