January 30, 2012 — A new Texas law requiring an ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period before abortion care has created a "bureaucratic nightmare" for clinics and obstacles for their patients, the Texas Tribune/New York Times reports (Ramshaw, Texas Tribune/New York Times, 1/28).
Earlier this month, a a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state could begin enforcing the law, which requires doctors to perform an ultrasound, describe the fetus and give the woman the option to hear the fetal heartbeat before providing abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/25).
Supporters of the law say it brings abortion care in line with other surgical procedures, where patients have an appointment to learn about the details one day and have the procedure on another day.
Proponents also claim that abortion providers rush women into the procedure without giving them enough information. Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, said that providers "underestimat[e] the capability of women to make a decision with more information, not less."
But opponents of the law consider it an "affront -- to patients who have thought long and hard about their decisions, and to doctors who believe they are not medically necessary." Additionally, abortion-rights advocates say the requirements are creating logistical hurdles for abortion clinics and their patients. The law mandates that the physician performing the abortion -- not an ultrasound technician or another doctor -- conduct the ultrasound, which can be difficult to schedule when doctors are in short supply or have to rotate between clinics.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Women's Health, said doctors have "had to set aside a whole other day doing ultrasounds, visits that in most parts of medicine would be dedicated to people with less training than a physician." She added, "The effect on their travel schedule, on their reimbursement, on patients' access to them has been tremendous."
Miller also noted that the state has not provided guidelines on what providers need to do to comply with the law and how it will be enforced. The state says it will release the guidelines soon.
For patients, the process of obtaining an abortion has become longer and more costly. Making two visits to the abortion clinic means that women must take extra time off work and pay twice for transportation and child care.
Stakeholders on both sides say they have not heard of a single case in which the law's requirements led a woman to change her mind about obtaining an abortion (Texas Tribune/New York Times, 1/28).