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Texas sonogram law blocked by U.S. judgecomment (0)

September 15, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — 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.

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, Gov. Perry placed the bill on emergency status at the start of the legislative session, which gave it priority consideration over other bills.

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