Center for Reproductive Rights

Texas women seeking abortions must now receive a sonogram and hear audio of the fetus’s heartbeat 24 to 72 hours before their procedure.

These additions to the sonogram bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, were ruled constitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The sonogram bill, passed in the 2011 legislative session last August, requires women to receive a sonogram one to three days before their abortion. Prior to the bill, women were not required to have a sonogram unless medically necessary and could receive an abortion in one visit.

Physicians already performed sonograms prior to abortions before the bill was passed, but the bill now requires them to perform trans-vaginal sonograms, a procedure that Sarah Wheat, co-CEO of Planned Parenthood in Austin, said is not medically necessary.

“The sonogram was already being provided since October in this most evasive manner,” Wheat said. “The difference now is that the physician has to verbally describe the songogram images and provide a heartbeat if audible, even if the person says they do not want to hear it.”

Wheat said the center has consulted with their medical staff and attorneys to decipher how to enforce the state mandate. She said the transition has gone smoothly and she has seen no changes in the number of abortions requested.

“Before the politicians got involved, about a third of the women wanted to see the image and even took home pictures,” Wheat said. “Most women who are choosing a safe abortion have already prayed on this and deeply discussed why they are choosing this regardless of what enforcements politicians make.”

Wheat said the ruling will have a great impact on college students because most abortions are performed on women under the age of 25.

Juan Portillo, a women’s and gender studies graduate student, said the new ruling will only add stress to an already difficult situation.

“It’s really just another way of pretty overtly controlling our bodies,” Portillo said. “It’s easy to have an opinion and pass or change laws without really knowing what goes through the heads of women who are making this decision.”

Portillo said the law will have more of a negative impact on college-aged women who have to deal with the stigmas of young motherhood and single-parent families when making their decisions.

“It’s a matter of what position you are at in life and how able you are to withstand the repercussions,” Portillo said. “Older women may be more independent as mothers, caregivers and career women, whereas college students go home to an empty apartment and have to deal with their situation alone.”

Portillo said politicians should put their focus on giving pregnant women social, cultural and educational support instead of telling doctors and patients how to conduct their abortions.

Lori DeVillez, executive director at the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, said the sonogram bill is a pro-woman bill that ensures good medical practice and the center has not seen any changes from its enforcement.

“If you are going in to any other surgery you meet with your doctor and understand exactly what it is you will be going through,” DeVillez said.
DeVillez said the sonograms allow women to connect with the reality of their situation and the 24-72 hour time period before abortions gives them time to assess their decisions.

“When they are able to have the sonogram it becomes real to them and they see that the baby is a part of them,” DeVillez said. “A lot of times they feel they have to do something right away and this gives them time to think.”

AUSTIN — 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.”

Sparks was particularly troubled by the requirement that victims of sexual assault or incest sign statements attesting to that fact to get around the provision. That would require women to disclose “extremely personal, medically irrelevant facts” that will be “memorialized in records that are, at best, semi-private,” Sparks wrote.

“[It] is difficult to avoid the troubling conclusion the Texas Legislature either wants to permanently brand women who choose to get abortions, or views these certifications as potential evidence to be used against physicians and women,” Sparks wrote.

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.

The ruling is a “huge victory for women in Texas and a clear signal to the state Legislature that it went too far when it passed this law,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The group said it had already received notice the state plans to appeal.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican running for president, was critical of Tuesday’s ruling. 

Vagina Magazine volunteer Mel Martell speaks on the phone at the Lonely Ladies benefit for Planned Parenthood Saturday night. The event featured local music and a vintage trunk show in order to help raise funds for a womenÂ’s healthcare center.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

A women’s rights group is working with Planned Parenthood to fight new health care legislation they call anti-women and insensitive.

On Saturday, the feminist organization The Lonely Ladies held a benefit for Planned Parenthood to demonstrate their disapproval of the new mandatory ultrasound bill which is now being challenged in court. The event featured local music and a vintage trunk show that raised money for the women’s health care center. A health care bill that includes an amendment to drastically reduce state funding to Planned Parenthood awaits the governor’s signature.

Lindsey Rock, a volunteer for the Planned Parenthood event, said they hope to continue having events to raise awareness and generate money for the clinics.

“I wanted to help support Planned Parenthood since they are losing so much funding,” Rock, who made baked goods for the event, said. “This was my way of contributing to the cause.”

Meagan Dodds, founder of the Lonely Ladies and event coordinator at Volstead Lounge, said the organization is working with Planned Parenthood to fight legislation that requires sonograms for women considering abortions. The groups support the lawsuit against the sonogram law that the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed earlier last week.

“[The sonogram law] is outrageous and hurtful to women in every way,” Dodds said.

The law requires abortion providers to give a detailed description of the fetus and requires women to hear the fetal heartbeat 24 hours before they get an abortion. The law exempts rape and incest victims but otherwise does not allow women to opt out of the new requirements. The law stipulates women can turn their head if they choose.

The Center fighting to block the law said it forces doctors to provide information against their will and violates medical ethics because they will be required to perform this procedure against the patients’ wills.

“When you go to the doctor, you expect to be given information that is relevant to your particular medical decisions and circumstances, not to be held hostage and subjected to an anti-choice agenda,” said Nancy Northup, the center’s president, to The Dallas Morning News.

The lawsuit underway will likely be settled by the beginning of September, just before the bill would take effect, said U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in court.

The Center filed suit against the law after Gov. Rick Perry signed the health care bill into law, including the sonogram amendment from Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Perry said the “emergency legislation” was necessary to protect unborn lives.

“This important bill will ensure that a woman, in addition to having all the facts about the life she’s carrying, also understands the devastating impact of this life-ending decision,” Perry said in a speech.

Oklahoma is the only other state that requires abortion providers to perform sonograms, and their bill is facing legal action as well. Other states, including Ohio and North Carolina, have similar laws pending. Battles between abortion providers and state legislators continue in states including Indiana and Kansas, and federal funding for Planned Parenthood barely survived the federal chopping block in the spring. 

Printed on 07/11/2011 as: ‘Ladies’ host benefit for health care center, protest abortion bill

A reproductive rights group asked a federal judge Wednesday to block a new Texas law requiring doctors to conduct a sonogram before performing an abortion, arguing it is vague and unconstitutional.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit to overturn the law. Wednesday’s hearing was on a request for U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks to block the law from taking effect on abortions performed starting Oct. 1, pending the lawsuit’s outcome.

Sparks said he would issue a ruling on the injunction request before Oct. 1.

The law requires doctors to describe the fetus’ features and allow pregnant women to hear the fetal heartbeat. The law doesn’t allow women to opt out of the description, with exemptions for cases of rape or incest and when a fetus has fatal abnormalities.

The center argues that the law forces doctors to say things against their will and violates medical ethics.

The law “damages the relationship of trust between physician and patient, and with compelled and unwanted speech imposes stress and emotional strain on women as they prepare to undergo a medical procedure,” the center argues in its lawsuit.
Supporters say the law is necessary to make sure women fully understand what an abortion entails. They cite cases where women later regretted having an abortion, and they insist the law will lead more women to decide against having one. About 81,000 abortions are performed in Texas every year, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who opposes abortion, signed the bill into law and says he believes it’s necessary to protect unborn life.

“Even in Texas, where we pass the toughest laws in the nation, tens of thousands of lives are lost,” Perry said when he signed the legislation. “This is a tragedy we must all work together to stop.”

Texas abortion providers who do not comply with the law would face loss of their medical license and possible criminal misdemeanor prosecution and fines up to $10,000.

Sparks, who represented doctors and hospitals for about 30 years when he was an attorney before being appointed a federal judge in 1991, questioned the sections of the law requiring sonograms be performed “in a quality consistent with current medical practice” and that results be described “in a manner understandable to a lay person.” 

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Debate arises over legality of pre-abortion sonogram