Judge Strikes Down Key Part of Texas Sonogram Law

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Geoff Livingston/flickr

    A new law aimed at reducing the number of abortions in Texas is set to go into effect this fall, but some of the toughest provisions will likely be tied up in litigation for months.

    The state is appealing a judge's ruling that it's unconstitutional to require doctors to display an ultrasound image of the fetus or embryo, make the heartbeat audible and describe its organs and size to a woman before performing an abortion.

    The remainder of the law, which applies to abortions starting Oct. 1, requires women to undergo an invasive vaginal sonogram at least 24 hours before an abortion is performed.

    "Very experienced Ob/Gyns were already doing ultrasounds well before this law," said Julie Rikelman, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to block portions of the law. "The focus of the lawsuit is that it was basically requiring doctors to act as a political agent ... just to do it because it was the government's political agenda."

    The law is one of dozens of anti-abortion measures that advanced through state capitals across the U.S. this year.

    While it's tangled up in court, women seeking an abortion will still be required to have a sonograms at least 24 hours before the procedure. If the patient lives 100 miles or more from the nearest provider, the wait would be shortened to two hours.

    "It'll require more women to make two visits to the doctor, which is obviously burdensome to some women," Rikelman said.

    She said the appeal filed Tuesday could take up to a year.

    Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for president, signed the law in May, saying it would save countless lives by discouraging women from getting abortions. About 81,000 abortions are performed every year in Texas. Perry and other conservatives called the ruling tragic and said it would result in the loss of hundreds of innocent lives.

    The law made exceptions for women who were willing to sign statements saying they were pregnant as a result of rape or incest or that their fetus had an irreversible abnormality.

    U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks questioned whether the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature was trying to "permanently brand" women who are victims of sexual assault.

    The law's supporters claim some women have regretted having abortions and the law ensures they understand what's involved before they do.

    Sparks wrote that forcing doctors to discuss the results with a patient who may not want to listen "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 also struck down several penalties. Doctors could have faced losing their medical license and possible criminal misdemeanor prosecution if they did not comply.

    A similar Oklahoma measure, passed in 2010, has been put on hold there pending legal challenges.