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Federal appeals court refuses to reconsider Texas sonogram law

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] on Friday denied a request [press release] filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website] to hold an en banc hearing to reconsider a challenge to a Texas law that requires doctors to perform a sonogram on women before an abortion [JURIST news archive]. The court's refusal means that the appeals court's original decision [opinion, PDF] that the law is enforceable will stand. The Texas law [HB 15, PDF] has been controversial because it requires doctors to describe the details of the sonogram to the woman and also let her hear the fetal heartbeat, regardless of whether she refuses. The CRR originally filed suit [press release] in June 2011 on the basis that the law violates women's basic reproductive rights and doctors' First Amendment [text] right against compelled speech.

A District Court judge ruled last week that Texas can begin to enforce the law [JURIST report] immediately, while criticizing the Appeals Court's decision on the grounds that it infringed upon First Amendment rights of doctors. Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the measure into law in May, but it was blocked in August after a challenge [JURIST reports] from the CRR. Laws similar to the Texas law have also been considered in other states. Early this month, the Virginia Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] that would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound before the procedure. In October, a judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report], blocking part of the state's abortion law that required a physician to perform an ultrasound and describe the images to the patient. In March 2010, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma ruled [JURIST report] that a state law imposing broad restrictions on abortion, including the requirement of an ultrasound prior to the procedure, violated that state's constitution.

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