Extreme New Appeals Court Decision Allows Enforcement of Intrusive anti-choice ultrasound law in Texas

(PRESS RELEASE) In an unprecedented decision today, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s decision to block enforcement of key provisions of a Texas law requiring doctors to give women seeking abortions a verbal description of the ultrasound image and other information about the fetus—even when a woman chooses not to receive the information and when the physician believes it is inappropriate and unethical to deliver it.

“One of the most extreme mandatory ultrasound laws in the nation has now led to an extreme court decision on this issue,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This clears the way for the enforcement of an insulting and intrusive law whose sole purpose is to harass women and dissuade them from exercising their constitutionally protected reproductive rights. Until today, every court that has reviewed similarly intrusive laws has ruled the laws unconstitutional.”

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks granted a preliminary injunction in August 2011 against the enforcement of the law’s requirement that doctors show women seeking abortions their ultrasound images, describe the images in detail, and play the sound of the fetal heartbeat even if a woman declines this information.

“Texas women are fully capable of weighing their reproductive choices carefully and responsibly in consultation with their doctors. The Texas ultrasound law serves only to place multiple hurdles between women and the free and full exercise of their reproductive rights,” said Northup.

“This law reflects the hostility of anti-choice lawmakers to women, their reproductive healthcare providers, and their constitutional rights. 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 our constitutional rights should be profoundly concerned and disappointed by today’s events.”

The Center filed a class action in June 2011 against the ultrasound requirements on behalf of Texas medical providers performing abortions and their patients. The Center requested a preliminary injunction shortly thereafter, arguing that the ultrasound requirements violated the First Amendment rights of both the doctor and the patient by forcing physicians to deliver politically-motivated communications to women, even if she declines. The Center also argued that the law discriminates against women by subjecting them to paternalistic “protections” not imposed on men.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is currently evaluating all available means of continuing to challenge this and all laws that seek to undermine women’s fundamental rights.

The case, Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey, was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights along with co-counsel Richard Alan Grigg of Spivey & Grigg, LLP in Austin, Susan L. Hays of Godwin Ronquillo, PC in Dallas, and Alex Lawrence and Jamie A. Levitt of Morrison & Foerster, LLP in New York.