Hours of emotional testimony before a House committee in Austin last week showed, to no one's surprise, that the debate over abortion in Texas has lost none of its intensity in the 38 years since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
If anything, it has become harder to decide which side is right in the many branches of argument that the debate has taken over the years. Careful thought and reflection help, but it never gets easy.
The Legislature is considering whether a doctor who is about to do an abortion should first be required to perform a sonogram on the pregnant woman and whether she must listen to the doctor's description of her embryo or fetus, including its measurements and whether it has a heartbeat, arms, legs or internal organs.
Proponents say the purpose is to give the woman information to help her decide whether to have the abortion or carry the baby to term. Others say lawmakers are setting up roadblocks designed to make life harder for abortion providers and women who, in most cases, have already chosen what they feel is right for them.
Although the Supreme Court has ruled on other abortion cases in the years since Roe v. Wade, none have changed its central tenet. The court refined and restated that central finding in a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey: "These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State."
It's an individual's choice. Still, the Casey decision placed great emphasis on a counterpoint: "To promote the State's profound interest in potential life, throughout pregnancy the State may take measures to ensure that the woman's choice is informed, and measures designed to advance this interest will not be invalidated as long as their purpose is to persuade the woman to choose childbirth over abortion."
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