October 3, 2011 — The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to overrule a federal judge's preliminary injunction blocking sections of a new Texas law that requires women seeking abortion care to have an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of the fetus, the Houston Chronicle reports. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) submitted an emergency application to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday asking the high court to stay the injunction (Scharrer, Houston Chronicle, 9/29).
In August, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks stopped three main provisions in the law from going into effect, including requiring doctors to make an ultrasound available for viewing by the woman; describing what the ultrasound shows, including the size of the fetus and any internal organs; and making available audio of the fetus' heartbeat, if detectable. Sparks ruled that the provisions violate the First Amendment by requiring doctors to engage in government-mandated speech.
Sparks let stand a provision in the law requiring ultrasounds at least 24 hours before an abortion procedure, unless the woman lives at least 100 miles from the nearest provider. In that case, the wait time would be two hours (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/6). Abbott petitioned the Supreme Court after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reverse the injunction.
Julie Rikelman, senior staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, "The district court's decision to block portions of this new law, which is intrusive and unconstitutional, was well-supported." She added, "There is no basis for the state's attempts to short-circuit the legal process by trying to nullify the court's decision on an emergency basis" (Houston Chronicle, 9/29).