Texas ultrasound law blocked by judge

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Teresa Shumay
Staff Writer

Last May Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that would require women considering an abortion either to view an ultrasound or have the images of the child described to them in detail at least 24 hours before an abortion. The law was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1 but was blocked by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin on Aug. 30.

Taking an ultrasound, also called a sonogram, before the abortion procedure is normal in most clinics, but most often women are denied the opportunity to see the images. The new law requires physicians to make these images available or, as stated in the bill, to verbally describe “in a manner understandable to a layperson … the results of the sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of external members and internal organs.”

The law “is really about freedom of information,” said Michaela Sobrak-Seton, club officer and sidewalk counselor for University of Dallas Crusaders for Life. “It’s really to protect women; to make them more aware of vital information that is going to change the rest of their life.”

As a sidewalk counselor, a volunteer who counsels women to choose life as they are about to enter an abortion clinic, Sobrak-Seton highlighted the benefits of the law for the counseling process. Before they discuss the help available to women in a crisis pregnancy, one of the challenges to counselors is to convince the mother of the humanity of her baby. Eighty percent of women considering abortion who viewed ultrasounds in crisis pregnancy centers did not go through with an abortion. “Seeing a picture on an ultrasound really makes them realize: Wow, that’s a person that I’m affecting by my actions,” she said. After an ultrasound, “you’ve seen that it’s a baby, now we can discuss how we can help you.”

The law was immediately attacked by the Pro-Choice movement, which called the measure an insult to women’s rights and an attempt to abuse the emotions of women seeking abortion. After a class action case was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights against the bill, Sparks ruled that premises of the law were vague, intrusive and unconstitutional. Citing the First Amendment, Sparks ruled that requiring the verbal description is against the freedom of speech.

The law “counsels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen,” he said.

The state immediately appealed the ruling, but it could take months for the issue to be resolved. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that the law cannot be enforced while it is under appeal.

Crusaders for Life will continue to pray outside the Robinson abortion clinic in Dallas on Saturday mornings with the added intention of the success of the ultrasound law. “Since Roe v. Wade,” said Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, “there has never been a more powerful tool to change a mother’s mind than seeing the face of her preborn baby.”

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