January 18, 2011 — On Friday, an appeals court panel approved Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's (R) request to permit immediate enforcement of a state law requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound, describe the fetus and give the woman the option to hear the fetal heartbeat before providing abortion care, the Texas Tribune reports (Ramshaw, Texas Tribune, 1/13).
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals clears the way for the state Department of Health Services to set a timeline for enforcing the measure. Enforcement could begin within 30 days, according to a spokesperson for the attorney general's office. Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for DHS, said the state is "quickly working toward full implementation and hope[s] to have all the pieces in place in the coming weeks" (CNN, 1/13).
Friday's decision follows a Jan. 10 ruling by the panel to reject a lower court judge's decision issuing an injunction to temporarily block the law's main provisions. In the Jan. 10 ruling, 5th Circuit Chief Judge Edith Jones said she would not issue a mandate ending the injunction for at least 14 days, giving the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the case, time to request a rehearing before the full 5th Circuit. Initially, it was unclear whether the state would try to begin enforcing the law while both sides weighed how to proceed.
Under the Jan. 10 ruling, the case goes back to the lower court judge with instructions to proceed under the panel's guidelines. The judge has scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 20 (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/12).
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) praised Friday's ruling, saying, "The sooner we start providing sonograms to those considering abortions, the more lives we can save." He added, "The 5th Circuit's decision requires abortion providers to immediately comply with the sonogram law, appropriately allowing Texas to enforce the will of our state, which values and protects the sanctity of life."
Meanwhile, doctors are seeking guidance on how to proceed with abortion services, the Tribune reports. Amy Hagstrom Miller -- president and CEO of Austin-based Whole Women's Health, an independent family planning clinic and abortion provider -- said making a woman "listen to the heartbeat and hear a description of the fetus is not going to change her mind about abortion." She added, "All it can really do is add another obstacle for women to navigate, and in the process, make her feel bad about her decision" (Texas Tribune, 1/13).