Appeals Court Upholds Texas Law Requiring Sonograms Before Abortions

By Elizabeth Harrington | January 12, 2012 | 4:46 PM EST

A pregnant woman undergoes a sonogram test. (AP Photo.)

( – A pro-life law signed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, requiring women seeking an abortion to first undergo a sonogram, will finally take effect after five months of legal delays, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals lifted an injunction placed on Texas House Bill 15, which requires sonograms to be performed at least 24 hours before a pregnant woman has an abortion so she can hear the fetal heartbeat and discuss the medical risks associated with abortion.

The bill was signed into law by Perry on May 15, was was supposed to take effect on Sept. 1.

However, one month before it was set to go into effect, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) brought a class action lawsuit against the legislation, and U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks granted a preliminary injunction.

Sparks wrote in the temporary injunction that the law is “unconstitutionally vague” and “violates the First Amendment by compelling physicians and patients to engage in government-mandated speech and expression.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately filed an appeal, resulting in the Fifth Circuit’s Jan. 10 ruling.

“The required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information,’’ Chief Judge Edith H. Jones wrote in her opinion. “The appellees failed to demonstrate constitutional flaws.’’

Jones also wrote, “The point of informed consent laws is to allow the patient to evaluate her condition and render her best decision under difficult circumstances.  Denying her up-to-date medical information is more of an abuse to her ability to decide than providing the information.”

The law requires women, unless they live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider, to wait 24 hours after the sonogram to have an abortion.

In addition to conducting a sonogram, physicians are required to give women the option to view the images and to hear the baby's heartbeat.

Once shown the images, physicians must give an explanation of the images unless the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.  Those cases are exempt from the sonogram requirement.

H.B. 15 also requires the physician who is to perform the abortion to inform the pregnant woman the probable gestational age of the unborn child at the time the abortion is to be performed.

“This law reflects the hostility of anti-choice lawmakers to women, their reproductive healthcare providers, and their constitutional rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of CRR in a statement following the court’s decision.

“This law, and this decision, inserts government directly into a private decision that must be protected from the intrusion of political ideologues.”

The abortion group called the law “extreme and intrusive” and said “it patronizes the women of Texas.” CRR says it will continue to bring opposition to the law, and is now organizing a writing campaign directed at Texas media called “Trust Texas Women,” that says, “the Texas ultrasound law serves only to place multiple hurdles between women and their ability to freely and fully exercise their reproductive rights.”

Planned Parenthood also criticized the ruling as an “abhorrent precedent.”

“Politicians forcing doctors to use an ultrasound for political — and not medical — reasons is the very definition of government intrusion,” said Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a press release. “The ruling today means that Texas can force doctors to use ultrasounds to shame a woman in the exam room — or deny her care.”

Judge Jones, however, stated in her ruling that “the state’s legitimate interests in ‘protecting the potential life within her’” is also grounds for “relevant” informed consent, based a 1992 Supreme Court ruling.

Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Perry issued a statement on Tuesday hailing the court’s decision.

“Today's ruling is a victory for all who stand in defense of life,” Perry said in a statement.

“Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy, and 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-ending decision,” he continued.  “We will continue to fight any attempt to limit our state’s laws that value and protect the unborn.”