AUSTIN (AP) - A Texas abortion law passed last year that requires doctors to show sonograms to patients can be enforced while opponents challenge the measure in court, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks' temporary order against enforcing the law, saying Sparks was incorrect to rule that doctors who oppose it had a substantial chance of winning their case. The court's opinion systematically dismantles the argument that the Texas law infringes on the free speech rights of doctors and patients, one of the key arguments for not enforcing the law.
"The required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information," the opinion concluded.
Sparks ruled in August that several provisions of the state law violated the free-speech rights of doctors who perform abortions by requiring that they show and describe the sonogram images and describe the fetal heartbeat, all of which doctors have said is not necessary for good treatment.
The appeals court cited a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that "upheld an informed-consent statute over precisely the same 'compelled speech' challenges made" in the current Texas case.
Earlier rulings have found laws requiring doctors to give "truthful, nonmisleading and relevant" information are reasonable regulation, not ideological speech requiring strict scrutiny under the First Amendment, the appeals court said.
"'Relevant' informed consent may entail not only the physical and psychological risks to the expectant mother facing this 'difficult moral decision,' but also the state's legitimate interests in 'protecting the potential life within her,'" Chief Judge Edith H. Jones wrote in the appeals court decision.
Jones wrote that the argument against the law only made sense if "that pregnancy is a condition to be terminated."
"The point of informed consent laws is to allow the patient to evaluate her condition and render her best decision under difficult circumstances," Jones wrote. "Denying her up to date medical information is more of an abuse to her ability to decide than providing the information."
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