[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] ruled [order, PDF] Monday that Texas can begin enforcing a state law [HB 15, PDF] that requires women to have a sonogram before undergoing an abortion [JURIST news archive]. In his ruling, Judge Sam Sparks noted that he was ordering the enforcement of the law following a ruling [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website], lifting an injunction [opinion, PDF] of the law and ordering immediate enforcement. Sparks criticized the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, stating that the law infringed upon the First Amendment rights [American-Statesman report] of physicians by improperly limiting their ability to exercise their medical judgment. According to Sparks, the law severely limits the right to free speech in the abortion context, and essentially makes physicians a mouthpiece of the state [Houston Chronicle report]. Following the ruling issued by Sparks, the Texas Department of State Health Services [official website] released a letter to providers [text, PDF] indicating that enforcement would begin immediately and informing them of their responsibilities under the law. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website], which filed the challenge to the law on behalf of a class of doctors, has filed a petition requesting that the Fifth Circuit rehear the case en banc. In response to Sparks’ ruling, CRR President Nancy Northup stated [press release], “[i]t is a terrible injustice that Judge Sparks could not rule in favor of protecting the constitutional rights of Texas doctors because of the Fifth Circuit panel’s decision.” Northup also urged the Fifth Circuit to apply Sparks’ reasoning if the case is reheard en banc.
Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] 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. The law would impose requirements including the audio provision of fetal heartbeat and a determination of the gestational age of the fetus. In October, a judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina [official website] 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 [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a state law [SB 1878, DOC] imposing broad restrictions on abortion, including the requirement of an ultrasound prior to the procedure, violated that state’s constitution.