First Amendment

In Speedy Ruling, 5th Circuit Refuses to Block Abortion Sonogram Law


Ruling only six days after hearing oral arguments, a federal appeals court has allowed Texas to enforce a law requiring women to get sonograms before abortions.

The opinion (PDF) by Judge Edith Jones of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. The Austin American-Statesman, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) covered the decision.

The law requires doctors to show women a picture of the fetus and to explain the results. Women who are victims of rape or incest, or whose fetus is abnormal, can decline to hear the explanation. The president of a group representing physicians challenging the law, Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights, tells the Wall Street Journal the opinion is the first by a federal appeals court upholding a law requiring doctors to describe the ultrasound to patients.

Sparks had found the law violates the First Amendment rights of doctors and patients. But Jones said challengers to the law had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on their constitutional claims. “The required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information,” she wrote.

Jones previously tussled with Sparks when she sent him an email advising him that some of his rhetoric is “caustic, demeaning and gratuitous.” Sparks had called an anti-abortion lawyer “anything but competent” after he sought to file an amicus brief in the case on behalf of “317 Texas women hurt by abortion.” Sparks had sealed one of the lawyer’s exhibits—a picture of an aborted fetus. In another case, Sparks had invited two feuding lawyers to a “kindergarten party” to learn discovery skills.

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