A federal judge on Tuesday blocked key provisions of Texas’ new law requiring a doctor to perform a sonogram before an abortion, ruling the measure violates the free speech rights of both doctors and patients.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks upheld the requirement that sonograms be performed, but struck down the provisions requiring doctors to describe the images to their patients and requiring women to hear the descriptions.
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. Sparks questioned whether the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature was trying to “permanently brand” women who are victims of sexual assault.
The law — one of dozens of anti-abortion measures that advanced through state capitals across the United States this year — takes effect Thursday. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights had sued to block it.
Supporters argued the law ensures women fully understand what an abortion entails and said some women have regretted having abortions. They said the law would lead to fewer abortions in Texas. About 81,000 abortions are performed every year in Texas.
Opponents argued that requiring doctors to describe a fetus’ features would force them to say things against their will and would violate medical ethics requiring doctors to respect a patient’s autonomy and act in the patient’s best interest.
The Texas Medical Association opposed the law because it dictated 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.
Sparks wrote that forcing doctors to discuss the results 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.”