Controversy over Texas abortion law heats up
AUSTIN, TX––A Texas abortion law passed last year has attracted heated controversy. The law requires doctors to show sonograms of the fetus to patients before undergoing an abortion procedure. On January 10, a three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary order against enforcing the law. In addition, the court advised U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in regard to how he should ultimately rule in the case. Judge Sparks had ruled in August 2011 that several provisions of the state law violated the free-speech rights of doctors who perform abortions by requiring that they show and describe the sonogram images and describe the fetal heartbeat, all of which doctors have said is not necessary for good treatment.
Chief Judge Edith H. Jones used her opinion to systematically disassemble the argument that the Texas law infringes on the free speech rights of doctors and patients, which was the key argument against the statute, which was signed into law in May 2010 by Texas Governor Rick Perry. “Today’s ruling is a victory for all who stand in defense of life,” Perry said. “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.” It is well known that Governor Perry is a candidate for the Republican nomination for next year’s election.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has defended the law, also spoke in favor of the ruling. He noted, “Today’s Fifth Circuit decision recognizes that the Texas sonogram law falls well within the state’s authority to regulate abortions and require informed consent from patients before they undergo an abortion procedure. Throughout our defense of this state law, the state has maintained that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims contradict U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which plainly authorizes the state to regulate abortion procedures.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, the organization that filed the lawsuit, has 14 days to ask for a rehearing of the case. If there are no appeals by then, the court would likely allow Texas to begin enforcement of the law. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the appeals court opinion extreme and out of line with past court decisions. She said, “This law, and this decision, inserts government directly into a private decision that must be protected from the intrusion of political ideologues. Anyone concerned with the erosion of the constitutional protection of our individual rights as Americans should be profoundly concerned and disappointed by today’s events.” To date, the Center has not decided whether to ask the court to reconsider the ruling, Ms. Northup noted that her clients will continue to challenge the sonogram law in Judge Sparks' court on other grounds, including a claim that it amounts to sex discrimination against women.