Texas's dandy new "sonogram law" -- which requires abortion-seeking women to look at a sonogram, hear a description of it from her doctor and listen to a fetal heartbeat -- is legal, a federal court ruled today. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary injunction, issued by Judge Sam Sparks back in August, that had previously prevented portions of the sonogram law from going into effect.
Edith H. Jones, the chief judge on the three-judge panel who made the ruling, wrote that the law does not interfere with either the patient's or the doctor's First Amendment Rights, as the Center For Reproductive Rights, which brought the suit, had claimed. Jones wrote that the sonogram law and other "informed consent laws" don't put an "undue burden" on a woman's right to have an abortion "if they require truthful, nonmisleading, and relevant disclosures." Jones also rejected the argument that portions of the law are "unconstitutionally vague."
In a statement, Nancy Northup, the president of the Center For Reproductive Rights, called the court's ruling "extreme."
"This clears the way for the enforcement of an insulting and intrusive law whose sole purpose is to harass women and dissuade them from exercising their constitutionally protected reproductive rights," she wrote. She added that the CRR is "currently evaluating all available means" to challenge the ruling "and to reverse the noxious tide of anti-choice assaults that this law represents."
Governor Rick Perry, you won't be surprised to learn, disagreed. He issued his own statement shortly after the ruling:
Today's ruling is a victory for all who stand in defense of life. 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. We will continue to fight any attempt to limit our state's laws that value and protect the unborn.(Meanwhile, as the governor is busily protecting the rights of the unborn, poor women who need access to life-saving medical care like cervical cancer screenings and pap smears are still very, very screwed.)
Some portions of the law have already been in effect. Sarah Wheat, co-CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region, says the organization began implementing the portions of the sonogram law that were not blocked by the initial injunction on October 1. Women seeking an abortion are now required to have a sonogram 24 hours before their procedure, as well as receive state-mandated literature informing them of alternatives. The literature also claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer, something that is, you know, not remotely true.
With today's ruling, Wheat says, doctors now have to position a sonogram screen so that women have no choice but to see it and have them listen to a fetal heartbeat. That's if one exists: The Guttmacher Institute, a women's health research group, says 88 percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed before 12 weeks, and that heartbeats are typically not audible before 12 weeks. Additionally, the doctor has to verbally read state-mandated information about the sonogram image.
A hearing on a permanent injunction banning the law is scheduled for later this month. But in the meantime, abortion providers must start adhering to the law.
"This court ruling says you have to start putting those requirements in place," Wheat says. "Even more appalling is the court said a woman can decline -- she can say, 'I've got all the information I need, thank you' -- but the doctor still has to provide all those things.
Her 'choice' is plug her ears and cover her eyes. That's what is so significant. Regardless of what she says or what her wishes are, the physician still has provide those steps."