Reproductive rights group challenges sonogram bill

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A New York-based reproductive rights group filed a class-action lawsuit Monday against a new law passed by the Texas Legislature that increases regulations on Texas women seeking abortions and physicians who perform the procedure.

The law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry on May 19, bars a woman from getting an abortion until her doctor performs a sonogram of the fetus, shows and describes the ultrasound images to her, and plays and describes the fetal heartbeat sounds to her. This process will be mandatory on all abortions starting Oct. 1 regardless of whether or not the woman wishes to receive the information.

Bonnie Scott Jones, deputy director of the U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group that filed the suit, said the state already has extensive legislation in place governing abortion, and she hopes the lawsuit will block the new legislation from being enforced.

“This is basically forcing your doctor to act as a government agent force-feeding you these messages from politicians,” Jones said. “It makes the informed consent process a biased one in which the woman is getting information she doesn’t want forced upon her by her doctor. This law really is about promoting an anti-choice agenda in the doctor’s office.”

The new law amends the 2003 Woman’s Right to Know Act, which requires Texas doctors to inform women seeking abortions of their medical resources and child support rights and provide them with booklets detailing their options at least 24 hours before the scheduled abortion. Jones said doctors will be forced to comply with the new requirements or lose their medical licenses.

“The law treats women as if they are too immature or incompetent to make their own important medical decisions,” she said. “It’s very demeaning and patronizing to women. It really does single them out because men are never treated this way in their decisions about health care.”

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who proposed a similar bill in 2003, said in a May 24 press release the bill would improve the quality of health care for Texas women.

“I want to thank all who kept us in their prayers as we battled the forces against this legislation,” Patrick said. “Today is a great day for women’s health and for the protection of the unborn in Texas.”

Blake Rocap, political consultant for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws Pro-Choice Texas and a UT alumnus, said the law unfairly targets abortion providers more than other types of physicians. He said the new regulations cause unnecessary political interference in an issue that should be dictated by physicians’ professional opinions.

“Its intent is to overregulate a legal medical procedure so it is more difficult, more expensive and more burdensome for women to exercise their rights by specifically attacking the physicians’ ability to treat their patients in accordance with their professional medical skills,” Rocap said.

He said receiving the sonograms and additional information would have little effect because women who are seeking abortions have already made a decision about what to do with their pregnancy.

“The bill will unnecessarily burden women by requiring them to jump through politically motivated hoops, not medically necessary ones, in order to receive the health care they want,” Rocap said. “It is premised on the false notion that women don’t know enough about their own bodies to make their own decision without government interference.”

Dorothy Roberts, Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs president, said local women should be aware of the new law as it affects every woman in Texas. She said she feels viewing the sonogram images and hearing the fetal heartbeat would make it difficult for women to make an unbiased decision.

“The sonogram would be an absolutely wonderful tool, and I think every woman should have that option,” she said. “But telling the doctor what to do and say afterwards is not a door that we should open.”

Roberts said in her opinion the regulations that were in place prior to the new law adequately informed women of their options and the implications of receiving an abortion.

“I think [the new law] implies that the physician and the woman herself would not have the right information regarding the abortion, and the physician should certainly have the right information,” she said.