Federal Judge Strikes Down Parts of Texas Ultrasound Law

September 6, 2011 — A federal judge on Aug. 30 issued a 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 at least 24 hours before the abortion procedure, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

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; describe what the ultrasound shows, including the size of the fetus and any internal organs; and make available audio of the fetus' heartbeat, if detectable (Lindell/Eaton, Austin American-Statesman, 8/30). Sparks -- appointed by President George H.W. Bush -- ruled that the provisions violated the First Amendment by requiring doctors to engage in government-mandated speech.

Sparks wrote, "The act's onerous requirements will surely dissuade or prevent many competent doctors from performing abortions, making it significantly more difficult for pregnant women to obtain abortions." He added, "Forcing pregnant women to receive medical treatment from less-skilled providers certainly seems to be at odds with protecting the physical and psychological health and well-being of pregnant women, one of the act's stated purposes" (Epstein, Politico, 8/31).

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 (Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 8/30).

Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) filed notice that he intends to appeal the ruling (Austin American-Statesman, 8/30).

Perry's Antiabortion Stance Intensifies

Over the nearly 11 years that Rick Perry (R) has been governor of Texas, his opposition to abortion right has become more "emphatic," the Texas Tribune reports. During his tenure, Perry has supported at least six "high-profile" antiabortion bills, including measures to make women wait 24 hours before the procedure and to require that minors have their parents' permission for an abortion, according to the Tribune.

Abortion rights were not an issue for Perry in his early years in elected office as Texas agricultural commissioner and lieutenant governor, but he increasingly has strengthened his antiabortion rhetoric to appeal to voters in his re-election bids and current run for the Republican presidential nomination. Most recently, Perry declared the ultrasound law emergency legislation, setting it up for quick passage. The preliminary injunction against the law is "a great disappointment to all Texans who stand in defense of life," Perry said, adding, "Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy."

Ted Miller, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "In Rick Perry's Texas, politics trumps sound science," adding, "The end result (of his tenure) is more political interference and less freedom and privacy for women in his state" (Ramshaw, Texas Tribune, 8/31).

Perry Would Continue Antiabortion Push as President, Opinion Piece Says

The Texas ultrasound law "is significant for what it tells us about Perry's attitudes toward women and reproductive choice," Daily Beast contributor Michelle Goldberg writes. Although "[i]t's not surprising, of course, that a Republican governor of Texas would be antiabortion," Perry's "fervor ... has been exceptional, far surpassing that of his predecessor, George W. Bush," according to Goldberg. Whereas Bush used "soft, coded language urging promotion of a 'culture of life,' Perry's condemnation of abortion is clear and unequivocal," she writes, adding, "He doesn't even pretend to respect women's autonomy -- rather, as he said at the Rally for Life, he believes that the government must dissuade women from making 'the biggest mistake of their life'" (Goldberg, Daily Beast, 8/31).