Reproductive rights group challenges Texas sonogram before abortion law

[JURIST] The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website] filed a challenge [complaint, PDF] Monday to the newly signed Texas law requiring a sonogram be done before a woman can have an abortion. The CRR filed the lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] on behalf of a class of physicians who perform abortions claiming that the act is unconstitutional because it "profoundly intrudes on the practice of medicine, forces physicians to deliver ideological speech to patients, and treats women as less than fully competent adults." The complaint outlined the ways in which the act intrudes on medical practice:

The Act imposes strict liability, criminal penalties, and a mandatory penalty of the non-renewal of a medical license on any physician who fails to comply with any one of myriad requirements for providing government-mandated information to a patient in advance of an abortion. The Act imposes numerous requirements that are contrary to standard medical practice and/or violate standards of medical ethics. For example, the Act will compel physicians to deliver to their patients government-mandated speech including visual and auditory depictions of the fetus that falls outside the accepted standards and practices for medical informed consent. Moreover, given its harsh penalties and vague requirements, the Act will force physicians to deliver this government-mandated speech even where a patient declines to receive it, or else risk losing his or her license.
The lawsuit argues that by forcing the physician to deliver government-mandated materials to the patient, it violates the First Amendment [text] rights of both the patient and of the physician. It forces patients to hear what CRR claims is politically-motivated speech before making a decision and forces physicians to deliver unwanted information. The complaint further argues that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause [Cornell LII Backgrounder] "by subjecting women to burdens not imposed on men; by perpetuating patronizing and paternalistic stereotypes of women as in need of special 'protections' and unable to make medical decisions on their own; and by enforcing the notion that a woman's primary and proper role is that of mother."

Last month, Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] signed [JURIST report] into law bill [HB 15 text; materials] requiring doctors to conduct a vaginal ultrasound and display the images at least 24 hours prior to an abortion, and stripping them of their medical licenses should they fail to do so. The law also requires doctors to provide "a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members, and internal organs." The Texas law is one of a number of state laws passed recently attempting to restrict abortion rights. Earlier this month, the Iowa House passed [JURIST report] what would be the most restrictive law yet, effectively banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. Multiple states have acted to ban abortions after 20 weeks, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain, including Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas and Idaho [JURIST reports].

 

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