AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — A federal district judge has blocked enforcement of a Texas law passed in May requiring women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram at least 24 hours prior to the procedure and to hear the baby’s heartbeat and a description from the abortion provider of the baby’s physical features.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin, in an Aug. 30 injunction, said the law, which was to go into effect Sept. 1, “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.”
Elaborating on his ruling, Sparks wrote that the law’s requirements expand beyond medically necessary information and “are unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech.” Specifically, Sparks argued that the First Amendment rights of doctors and patients are violated in the law’s requirements that doctors show the patient an ultrasound of the baby, make the heartbeat audible and give a verbal description of the child.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a notice of appeal in the case shortly after the decision was announced.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the bill into law on May 19, lamented the ruling.
“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,” Perry said in a statement.
“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,” Perry said. “I have full confidence in Attorney General Abbott’s efforts to appeal this decision as he defends the laws enacted by the Texas Legislature.”
The case may gain even more attention as Perry vies to be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Recent polls show Perry ahead of other GOP candidates.
Those hailing the injunction included the New York City-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the law in June on behalf of Texas abortionists and their patients. CRR is an international player in the abortion-rights movement.
CRR’s president and CEO, Nancy Northup, said in a statement, “Today’s ruling is a huge victory for women in Texas and a clear signal to the state legislature that it went too far when it passed this law. Politicians have no business telling doctors how to practice medicine or meddling in women’s private medical decisions.”
But Elizabeth Graham of Texas Right to Life wrote on the group’s website that the judge “accuses both the plaintiffs and defendants of waging an ideological war in his courtroom, yet he had done exactly that by enjoining the main points of the sonogram law.”
The law ensures “that women receive all the medical facts prior to making a life-changing decision to abort an unborn child,” Graham wrote. “To delay this law taking effect is to further jeopardize the health of women entering abortion clinics.”
Under the Texas law, a woman must be aware of the option to see her unborn baby via sonogram. It requires the person performing the sonogram — a physician or certified sonographer — to describe the dimensions of the baby and the existence of the baby’s arms, legs and internal organs, including a heartbeat.
Women living in Texas counties of fewer than 60,000 people or beyond 100 miles of an abortion facility and those in a life-threatening medical emergency are exempted from the 24-hour waiting period. Rural women would instead have to wait only two hours. Also, in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality, women could refuse hearing the verbal description from the sonogram.
In January, Perry placed the bill on emergency status at the start of the legislative session, which gave it priority consideration over other bills.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist Texan (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.