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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Court Upholds Texas Abortion-Sonogram Law

By Susan Duclos

Little late on this but on February 6, 2012, it was reported that a federal appeals court forced District Judge Sam Sparks to reverse his own previous ruling blocking portions of Texas' new law which would require doctors to perform sonograms on fetuses before performing abortions, and Sparks must now uphold the law.

A federal judge on Monday upheld the Texas law requiring women to have a sonogram before having an abortion, saying an appeals court had forced him to declare the law constitutional.

District Judge Sam Sparks had previously struck down parts of the law, but his latest ruling said he's bound to follow the direction of the New Orleans-based appeals court.

Texas will began enforcing the law Tuesday Feb. 7th, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas Health Services Commission.

The spokeswoman, Carrie Williams, states "Our enforcement activities can begin now that the materials and guidance are in place. We'll be providing technical assistance along the way, but facilities need to follow the law, and we'll be checking up on that during our facility inspections. We understand that this affects the facilities and the women who are going there for services, and we want to make sure everyone is well informed about this."

The Texas Department of State Health Services has listed information for providers and well as information for women on their website.

What this means: Texas law says your doctor must talk to you about certain things before you can have an abortion. After you get this information, your doctor must wait 24 hours before your abortion can be performed. The law also requires that you receive a sonogram from the doctor (or agent) who will be performing your abortion at least 24 hours before the abortion is to occur. If you live more than 100 miles away from the nearest abortion provider, you can waive this requirement, but you will still be required to have a sonogram by the doctor performing the abortion. It will need to occur at least 2 hours before the abortion, rather than 24 hours before.

Once you arrive at your doctor’s office, and before your sonogram, you will be asked to sign a sonogram/abortion election form. This form certifies that you are aware of the law and its requirements. The doctor will also give you materials to read. One of those materials should be the Resource Directory listed on this webpage.

During your sonogram, the doctor is required to display the sonogram images and make the heart beat audible. You may decline to view the images and listen to the heartbeat. The doctor must also provide a verbal explanation of the sonogram results. Only women who certify on the sonogram/abortion election form one of the following criteria can decline to hear the verbal explanation:

  • the pregnancy is a result of a sexual assault, incest, or other violation of the Penal Code that has been reported to law enforcement authorities or that has not been reported because she reasonably believes that to do so would put her at risk of retaliation resulting in serious bodily injury;
  • the woman is a minor and obtaining an abortion in accordance with judicial bypass procedures under Chapter 33, Family Code; or
  • the fetus has an irreversible medical condition or abnormality, as medically documented in the woman's medical file.

Doctors who do not comply with the law could lose their medical license, be charged with a misdemeanor and face fines of up to $10,000.