Texas Sonogram Law Struck Down; Perry to Appeal

Texas cannot require doctors to show pregnant women a sonogram before they perform an abortion, a federal judge in Austin has ruled.

The Texas legislature passed a bill earlier this summer, signed by governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry (R), which would have also required the doctor to describe the fetus’ features to the woman and she would have had to listen to the heartbeat 24 hours before the scheduled abortion.

The law would have gone into effect this Thursday. The state plans to appeal. Perry made the law one of his top 2011 priorities.

Texas is not the first state to attempt to require an ultrasound before abortions, 19 other states have passed similar laws. However, the judge and pro-choice activists insist that the Texas law went too far and violated the free speech rights of both the doctors and patients. The law required doctors to engage in speech beyond the usual “informed consent” topics.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin Texas, appointed by George H.W. Bush, said that several aspects of this law were “unconstitutionally vague,” and that it violates the First Amendment by compelling doctors and patients to engage in government-mandated speech.

The doctor would be required to give, "in a manner understandable to a layperson, a verbal explanation of the results of the sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of external members and internal organs."

The law "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," Sparks wrote.

“The Act’s onerous requirements will surely dissuade or prevent many competent doctors from performing abortions, making it significantly more difficult for pregnant women to obtain abortions,” Sparks continued, “Forcing pregnant women to receive medical treatment from less-skilled providers certainly seems to be at odds with ‘protecting the physical and psychological health and well-being of pregnant women,’ one of the Act’s stated purposes.”

The bill would have provided punishment for physicians’ who did not comply, fining them $10,000 and revoking their medical license.

An injunction issued on Tuesday, however, blocks any penalty from being given.

The bill easily passed though the Texas House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans.

"Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy and [the] 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."

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