Pre-abortion sonogram law in limbo, despite AG’s worries of ‘harm’ to lawmakers, women
A federal appeals court has upheld an injunction on a controversial Texas law that requires women to have sonograms a day before they can an get an abortion, despite the state’s worries a delay would cause “irreparable harm” for lawmakers who passed the bill earlier this year, as well as for women receiving abortions.
While key provisions of the law were blocked by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Aug. 30 — just two days before it was scheduled to take effect — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly sought to appeal the decision, a move backed by Gov. Rick Perry who had fast-tracked the bill as “emergency legislation” during the Legislative session.
Sparks wrote the law was unconstitutional, for breaching doctors’ and patients’ free speech rights, and noted 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.”
On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that Sparks’ injunction should remain in place, thwarting Abbott and other supporters’ hopes the legislation could be enforced during the appeals process. The three-judge panel has scheduled a full hearing on the injunction for the first week of January.
Abbott’s office had argued the information the law required doctors to say is “truthful and not misleading,” and is similar to information provided about any other medical procedure. “The entire point of the informed-consent law is to require patients to receive information that will encourage them to choose childbirth over abortion,” the state argues, and to curb reluctance from doctors who may not wish to provide information that might “dissuade the patient from choosing to abort.”
Defendants also tried to argue that a delay would cause “irreparable injury” to legislators that supported the bill, by preventing them from “implementing the will of the people.” Even a temporary invalidation would harm those legislators, defendants claimed.
After worrying about legislators’ well-being, Abbott’s office also raises concerns for patients that may opt for abortion because of the injunction.
The state’s motion stresses the “devastating psychological consequences” and “irreparable harm that befall women who abort” without being completely informed, though reproductive rights advocates note the overemphasis of emotional damage caused by abortion is not heavily rooted in mental health science.
“Post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome,” for instance, isn’t recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the American Psychiatric Association.
The U.S. Supreme Court also denied the state’s request to enforce sonogram law while it’s under appeal, echoing the decision of the federal appeals court.
The law 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.
While advocates claim the law provides women with necessary information to make an informed decision, critics see the measure as a draconian effort to deter women from carrying out abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which filed the lawsuit, argues 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.”
Susan Hays, an attorney who is working with the center, called the ruling a “victory” in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. “We’re pleased the courts are following procedures and taking a sober look at the case.”