By Jim Vertuno
AUSTIN — A federal judge in Austin said Monday that he couldn’t block a Texas law requiring women to have a sonogram before having an abortion any longer because an appeals court had ordered it to take effect.
District Judge Sam Sparks earlier ruled parts of the law unconstitutional, but his latest ruling said he’s bound to follow the direction of the New Orleans-based appeals court, which said last month it believed the law to be constitutional.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said it will continue to pursue appeals to block the law requiring doctors to show women images from sonograms, play fetal heartbeats aloud and describe the features of fetuses at least 24 hours before abortions.
There are exceptions in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity and for women who travel great distances to a doctor.
Supporters argue the law ensures women will fully understand what abortion entails and will lead to fewer abortions.
About 81,000 abortions are performed every year in Texas.
But a group of doctors who joined the Center for Reproductive Rights to sue the state argue the law infringes on their First Amendment rights and is unconstitutionally vague regarding enforcement.
The doctors claim the law requires them to perform a procedure that is not medically necessary and that women may not want to have done.
Sparks upheld the sonogram requirement last year but struck down the provisions requiring doctors to describe the images. He also struck down a requirement that victims of sexual assault or incest sign statements attesting to that fact, writing that the state was trying to “permanently brand” those women.
But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Sparks and used its opinion to direct Sparks how to rule in the future.
The appeals court said it considered the law constitutional and sonograms, fetal heartbeats and fetuses’ medical descriptions are important information.