Judge blocks pre-abortion sonogram law
Key parts of a controversial Texas law requiring women to receive sonograms before getting abortions are violations of free speech rights, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Gov. Rick Perry had classified the bill as “emergency legislation” during this year’s legislative session, and was backed by the major anti-abortion access group Texas Alliance for Life.
It requires women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure (with the waiting period reduced to two hours for women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider). Doctors must also show and describe the images to the woman and play sounds of the fetal heartbeat. Women could only opt out of hearing the sonogram described by certifying in writing that they either underage, were pregnant as a result of sexual assault, or were carrying a fetus with a medical condition.
The legislation came under fire from pro-choice advocates and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), who announced in June that they had filed a class action lawsuit against Texas’ mandatory pre-abortion sonogram bill, the Texas Independent previously reported.
CRR argued the bill violates the First Amendment rights of both the doctor and the patient by “forcing physicians to deliver politically-motivated communications to women, regardless of their wishes.” The suit aimed to halt the bill with a preliminary injunction, preventing it from going into effect on Sept.1– and Tuesday’s ruling did just that.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks found requirements in the legislation to be unconstitutional for breaching doctors’ and patients’ free speech rights, and struck the bill’s penalties for doctors who do not describe the sonogram, show the images or play audio of the heartbeat. (Performing the sonogram is the only requirement left.)
In particular, Sparks worried that about the requirement for women who’d been raped to sign a medical document saying so. “It is difficult to avoid the troubling conclusion,” Sparks writes, “the Texas Legislature either wants to permanently brand women who choose to get abortions, or views these certifications as potential evidence to be used against physicians and women.”
Sparks also noted ideological motivations underlying the pending law, concluding that it “compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen.”
In a footnote relating to the possibility the Texas Legislature is, in fact, prioritizing this agenda over women’s health, Sparks writes, “It is ironic that many of the same people who zealously defend the state’s righteous duty to become intimately involved in a woman’s decision to get an abortion are also positively scandalized at the government’s gross overreaching in the area of health care.”
In a statement, Center for Reproductive Rights president and CEO Nancy Northup called Sparks’ order “a huge victory for women in Texas,” and a signal that the Texas Legislature had overstepped its bounds. “Politicians have no business telling doctors how to practice medicine or meddling in women’s private medical decisions,” she said.
Perry responded to the ruling in a statement, voicing “full confidence” in Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s forthcoming appeal of the decision:
Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy and today’s ruling is a great disappointment to all Texans who stand in defense of life This important sonogram legislation ensures that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying, and understands the devastating impact of such a life-changing decision.
Texas Mandatory Sonogram Suit – Sparks order