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Dallas Attorney Part of the Team Trying To Get Courts to Toss Out State's New Sonogram Law

As we've noted before, the Texas Legislature special session this year was awfully concerned with abortion -- namely, making it as hard as possible for anyone to get one. Now, House Bill 15 is heading for Governor Rick Perry's desk, and the Center for Reproductive Rights is trying to stop one of the bill's most controversial features, the mandatory sonogram provision, which requires doctors to show women images of the fetus, describe those images in detail and offer to let them hear sounds of the heartbeat before the abortion can proceed. The CRR has already filed a class action lawsuit against the bill and launched a new website in protest, Trust Texas Women.

Today, the CRR asked U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks to keep the sonogram law from being enforced while the state considers its claims. In the text of their motion, the CRR argues that the Texas Women's Right to Know Act, which amends House Bill 15, "is far more extreme than, and qualitatively different from, any abortion counseling law enforced in this country."

Susan Hays is a Dallas-based attorney who's been working pro bono with the CRR on this case. She appeared at the hearing this morning on the group's behalf, along with Dicky Grigg, an Austin attorney who's also acting as local counsel, Bebe Anderson and Bonnie Scott Jones, both of the CRR, and Alex Lawrence, an attorney at Morrison & Forrester in New York City, who's also working pro bono. Judge Sparks, instead of immediately granting an injunction, decided to give both sides more time to gather evidence and present their arguments. The judge, Hays tells Unfair Park, "was what we call a 'hot bench.' He had a lot of questions about how the law is supposed to work, how doctors are supposed to know how what to do or not do. ... He seemed very uncomfortable with some aspects of the bill. Some of the questions he had about how it was going to work, I'm pretty sure he didn't get all the answers he wanted."

Hays calls the bill "part of an orchestrated campaign by the extreme right as part of their obsession with women's reproductive capacities." But she says it also has implications for the doctors who perform abortions as well.

"What's disturbing about this bill to the health-care community is this forced lecture and forced speech that a doctor has to give his patient," she says. "It's forcing doctors to choose between violating medical ethics and a threat of prosecution."

The CRR was just granted a similar injunction in a case in Kansas, where it filed a motion to block the implementation of new licensing regulations for abortion providers. The new laws were issued to abortion providers on June 17 and were supposed to go into effect July 1.

They would have required every abortion provider in the state (all three of them) to comply with "extensive physical plant requirements" that the CRR worried would lead to them being shut down for code violations. The requirements included "procedure rooms that are at least 150 square feet, 50 square feet of storage space for janitor's supplies per procedure room, and designated dressing rooms for staff."

Kind of hard to build with two weeks notice, no?

The plaintiffs in the Texas case will have 15 days to submit a brief about specific legal issues they object to within the law, and the defendants will have 15 days to respond. Hays says she expects a ruling from Sparks in August at the earliest. She hopes Sparks will provide a permanent injunction against the bill, which is otherwise stated to take effect September 1.

"This bill is requiring women to jump through hoops and listen to lectures because of somebody else's hang-ups about sex," Hays says. "And that is not the role of the state under the constitution."Doc 30 Order


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