A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] on Tuesday blocked [decision, PDF] several provisions of a new Texas law that restricts abortion [JURIST news archive] practices and requires a doctor to perform a sonogram prior to the procedure. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website] filed a challenge to the law [JURIST report] on behalf of a class of physicians that perform abortions. The law [HB 15 text] at issue created various prerequisites that a woman must meet to establish informed and voluntary consent to an abortion. For example, a physician must perform a sonogram, show the images to the woman and explain them. In addition, a physician must play the sounds of the heartbeat to the woman. The court, holding that the provisions requiring physicians to provide, and women to hear, descriptions of the sonogram violated the First Amendment [text], granted in part the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Addressing the First Amendment violation, Judge Sam Sparks wrote:
The net result of these provisions is: (1) a physician is required to say things and take expressive actions with which the physician may not ideologically agree, and which the physician may feel are medically unnecessary; (2) the pregnant woman must not only passively receive this potentially unwanted speech and expression, but must also actively participate;in the best case by simply signing an election form, and in the worst case by disclosing in writing extremely personal, medically irrelevant facts; and (3) the entire experience must be memorialized in records that are, at best, semi-private. In the absence of a sufficiently weighty government interest, and a sufficiently narrow statute advancing that interest, neither of which have been argued by Defendants, the Constitution does not permit such compulsion.Additionally, the court found three sections of the law to be unconstitutionally vague and severed those from the Act for enforcement purposes. The remaining provisions of the law are set to take effect on Thursday.
Texas is only one of many states that have recently enacted, and subsequently had to defend, laws restricting abortions. With courts analyzing these cases differently, the outcomes have varied. Earlier this month, the Arizona Court of Appeals [official website] ended a two-year injunction [JURIST report] on portions of a law that restricted abortion practices. The original injunction by the Maricopa County Superior Court [official website] held the following provisions as "undue burdens" on a woman's right to an abortion: prohibitions on anyone but a licensed physician performing an abortion; a requirement that women meet with the doctor personally 24 hours before an abortion (the injunction held that a phone call would suffice); that medical professionals have a right to refuse to perform even medically necessary abortions, provide certain contraceptives or the "morning after" pill; and a mandate that parents' consent forms allowing their child to get an abortion be notarized. The appeals court reinstated all of these stipulations, suggesting that the lower judge had applied "strict scrutiny" in error rather than an "undue burden" test. Planned Parenthood of Arizona [advocacy website], a party to the original suit, said the law's enactment will have a severe impact on women in the state, many of whom have to take day-trips to have abortions. It is unknown if they will appeal.