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Controversy over Texas abortion law heats up

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
abortion, sonogram, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Rick Perry

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.”

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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.

Editorial Opinion:

The landmark Roe vs. Wade became law in during my obstetrics and gynecology residency; thus, I followed the evolution of legalized abortion in the U.S. from its initiation in 1973 to the present. I also received training in ultrasonography and regularly used ultrasound in my practice since the late 1970s. I am wholeheartedly in favor of the mandate to require patients to view a sonogram prior to undergoing the procedure. It allows the patient to fully confront the decision they are about to make. If seeing an image of a living fetus does not dissuade her from her decision, she will be able to go forward with it with less regrets later on. Many women have expressed extreme remorse after undergoing an abortion. This remorse can be exacerbated by the emotional letdown (postpartum depressions) that occurs when hormone levels drop. One patient of mine who I first saw after recently undergoing the procedure limped into my office on crutches. Shortly after the abortion, she took up hang-gliding and almost died. She fractured both legs in multiple places. She admitted to me that she became very depressed and had tried to kill herself. With counseling, she slowly improved. I later learned that she had become pregnant and delivered a healthy infant. This event was a healing process for the young woman; however, she still suffered to a degree from regret.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary order against enforcing a law regarding women to view a sonogram before undergoing an abortion