Fifth Cir: Texas Can Enforce Sonogram Bill Pending Court Review

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 10, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Less than a week after hearing oral arguments in the Texas sonogram bill appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state can enforce the law while plaintiffs proceed with their challenge in court.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Chief Judge Edith Jones nixed District Judge Sam Sparks’ temporary order blocking enforcement of Texas H.B. 15. The bill requires a doctor to perform a sonogram on a woman requesting an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure, describe the unborn child, and list agencies that offer alternatives to abortion. Doctors who fail to comply with the law risk losing their licenses and incurring a $10,000 fine, reports Politico.

Judge Jones found that "the required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information. They are not different in kind, although more graphic and scientifically up-to-date, than the disclosures discussed in [Planned Parenthood v. Casey.]"

The Fifth Circuit's decision potentially extends the Casey informed consent reasoning to include the "state's legitimate interests in 'protecting the potential life within [an expectant mother],'" rather than limiting informed consent to the physical and psychological risks associated with an abortion.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, criticized the court's ruling. "This law, and this decision, inserts government directly into a private decision that must be protected from the intrusion of political ideologues. Anyone concerned with the erosion of the constitutional protection of our individual rights as Americans should be profoundly concerned and disappointed by today's events," reports the AP.

While Texas sonogram bill opponents can still look forward to a district court review on the constitutionality of the law, Judge Jones and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have indicated that the bill should pass constitutional muster, noting, "Appellees failed to demonstrate constitutional flaws in H.B. 15. Accordingly, they cannot prove a substantial likelihood of success on each of their First Amendment and vagueness claims."

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