The Austin Chronicle

Ultrasound Law Takes Effect

By Jordan Smith, January 20, 2012, News

Less than two days after a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court decision to enjoin enforcement of certain provisions of Texas' new and controversial ultrasound-before-abortion law, the federal appellate judges granted the state's request that the court make its ruling effective immediately – before any appeal of the decision or any other action could be taken to challenge the new ruling. The law requires women to undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before seeking an abortion (typically by an invasive transvaginal procedure) and that they view the sonogram and listen to both the fetal heartbeat and a description of fetal development. There are few exceptions to the new requirements, which the 5th Circuit cleared as a legally permissible extension of the state's so-called "informed consent" law.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the constitutionality of the law on behalf of a group of Texas doctors, says there is no justification for the immediate enforcement of the challenged provisions, which the CRR says violate the First Amendment. "There is no justification for Texas to have insisted on the immediate enforcement of this intrusive and demeaning law, nor the court of appeals to have granted it without giving us an opportunity to be heard," Nancy Northup, CRR's CEO and president, said in a press statement. "Texas reproductive health providers and the women they serve deserve to be treated the same as anyone else seeking a fair hearing from our courts."

Not surprisingly, Gov. Rick Perry celebrated the decision as a way to "save" unborn lives: "The Fifth Circuit's decision requires abortion providers to immediately comply with the sonogram law, appropriately allowing Texas to enforce the will of our state, which values and protects the sanctity of life."

A summary judgment hearing in the case, where the CRR will seek to have the law permanently enjoined from enforcement – and the state will seek to have the CRR's lawsuit dismissed – is set for Friday, Jan. 20, in federal court in Austin. (For more on the court's recent ruling, see "Fifth Circuit Approves Mandatory Ultrasound," Newsdesk blog, Jan. 11.)

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