Lawmaker seeks to overturn abortion waiting period

By Michael Brick, Associated Press —

AUSTIN, Texas — Controversial new abortion restrictions have caused anguish but led few to turn away from the procedure, according to a study presented Wednesday by a state lawmaker who wants to repeal the restrictions.

“It’s just ridiculous that we do things to women to manipulate their minds instead of just trusting that they’ve already made a very difficult decision,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat from Houston. “Unfortunately, it has been a political issue. It has won people campaigns.”

Enacted in 2011 with two-thirds majority support in both chambers, the restrictions require women seeking abortions to hear a doctor’s description of sonogram images, wait 24 hours and then return for the procedure. The law allows some exceptions, including cases of rape and incest. A group of doctors successfully challenged the policy on First Amendment grounds, but an appeals court reinstated the law.

Similar restrictions have been adopted in 29 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The new study, Impact of Abortion Restrictions in Texas, was performed by researchers at the University of Texas in partnership with Ibis Reproductive Health, a Massachusetts research group that “aims to improve women’s reproductive autonomy.” They gathered survey results last year from more than 300 women who had completed their preliminary visits in Dallas, Houston, Austin, El Paso, McAllen and San Antonio.

The researchers reported a 10-15 percent decline in the number of abortions performed at several large clinics in the year after the law took effect. But Daniel Grossman, a researcher for Ibis, attributed the reduction to the logistical hurdles of traveling to two appointments, not the psychological impact of the waiting periods and sonogram images.

The women in the survey reported traveling an average of 42 miles to obtain an abortion. Some traveled 400 miles.

On average, the women waited 3.7 days between consultation and procedure, with wait times dependent on aligning their own schedules with their doctors’ schedules.

Nearly a third of the women said the waiting period negatively affected their “emotional well-being,” but 89 percent of the women remained confident in their decision to have an abortion after their consultation visits.

Supporters of the law like Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life, criticized the study.

Pojman said the study “fails to report any interviews of women who had a consultation with the physician who would perform the abortion and decided not to have an abortion.”

“We believe many of these women may have responded that they were grateful for the opportunity to talk with the physician,” he said. “Many of those women may have chosen to give birth to their child because of that conversation.”

Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston who sponsored the law establishing the new restrictions, said his bill “was about improving the standard of care for women. I accomplished that by improving the doctor-patient relationship that previously didn’t exist.”

Noting that official data has not yet been reported, Patrick added, “I have received information from across the state about women who have decided against abortion after seeing the sonogram.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the restrictions into law, called the study a vindication of their success.

“The intent of this bill was to save lives, and as this study points out, the number of women getting abortions in Texas has decreased,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor. “That is a success, and it’s a shame some would attempt to skew it as anything else.”

In her news conference, Farrar said the state should focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies. A separate law that took effect this year curtails funding to women’s health clinics affiliated with doctors who perform abortions.

While she hopes to keep the discussion alive, Farrar said she doesn’t expect “a miracle.”

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