TEXAS JUDGE STRIKES DOWN PORTIONS OF ANTI-ABORTION LAW ON FIRST AMENDMENT GROUNDS
A federal judge in Texas struck down provisions of a Texas anti-abortion law that required doctors to describe sonogram images to their patients and requiring women to hear the descriptions before an abortion. The law made exceptions for women who were willing to sign statements saying they were pregnant as a result of rape or incest or that their fetus had an irreversible abnormality.
Those in favor of the law maintain that it ensures that women fully understand what an abortion entails, and that the law would lead to fewer abortions in Texas. Opponents argue that requiring doctors to describe a fetus’ features compels doctors to say things against their will and violates medical ethics requiring doctors to respect a patient’s autonomy.
According to the AP, the Texas Medical Association opposes the law because it dictates when a doctor must perform a procedure and how the doctor must deal with a patient. While a pre-abortion ultrasound is routine, it is not considered medically necessary.
In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks wrote that forcing doctors to discuss the sonogram images with a patient who may not want to listen “compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen,” and that requiring victims of sexual assault or incest sign statements attesting to that fact to avoid having to hear their doctors describe the sonogram images would require women to disclose “extremely personal, medically irrelevant facts” that would be “memorialized in records that are, at best, semi-private.”
Sparks concluded that “[it] is difficult to avoid the troubling conclusion the Texas Legislature … wants to permanently brand women who choose to get abortions.”
Sparks also struck down several enforcement penalties for doctors who faced losing their medical license and possible criminal misdemeanor prosecution if they did not comply with statute.
(NB: Judge Sparks is well known for his blunt style and forceful opinions. Here are a couple of his latest decisions: in the first, he orders the parties in a litigation pending before him to attend a “kindergarten party” in his courtroom. In the second, he upbraids an attorney for attempting to turn a case into a “politically charged media circus”).