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Critique of Judge Sam Sparks’ Opinion on Texas Ultrasound Law (part 2)

See Part 1, here
Media reports say that due to the injunction by Federal Judge Sam Sparks, the Texas Ultrasound law will not go into effect at all until a higher court rules on it. However, the Judge does note that there is a severability clause and that his injunction is narrow. I’m waiting to see opinions from lawyers as to whether abortionists will be held to parts of the law that are not specifically under injunction.

In the meantime, I wonder how many women will meet the abortionist before they are gowned and sedated for the procedure and how many will insist on seeing their sonograms?

In the second half of the Opinion by Judge Sam Sparks, the Judge outlines the specific complaints brought against the new law, HB 15, (text of the law, here ) . Most of those complaints are dismissed, even as the Judge continues to call the new law “unwise” and ultimately imposes an injunction against enforcement.

Sparks disagrees with the Plaintiffs, the Center for Reproductive Rights out of New York, that the definitions of “medical emergency,”  “sonogram,”  “in a quality consistent with current medical practice,” and “in a manner understandable to a layperson” are unconstitutionally vague.  He also disagrees with the Plaintiffs on whether or not “visit” and “abortion-related services” are unclear to most people.

The major complaints upheld by the judge appear to be that the law doesn’t allow for multiple-physician practices or for a switch if the original doctor who informed the woman about her ultrasound cannot, “through some unforeseen circumstances,” perform the abortion, requires a woman to sign an informed consent acknowledgement, and   forces the physician to “advance an ideological agenda.”  Sparks also does not like the word “soley,” for reasons that I don’t understand.

It is true that one purpose of the law was to ensure that women were given informed consent by the physician who was to perform the abortion, “in a private and confidential setting.” Most abortionists had been satisfying the 24 hour waiting period and informed consent the same way that Dr. Alan Braid’s Reproductive Services of San Antonio,  had:  over the phone  or by referring the woman to the information on the Internet.

However, it doesn’t appear that Sparks overturned these requirements, since the injunction overturns the objection to the requirement that women receive private and confidential informed consent and the exception for those who live more than 100 miles from the abortion clinic. The opinion only finds fault with the lack of accommodations for “unplanned substitutions.”

The judge makes a surprising statement about the requirement that a copy of the informed consent be inserted in the medical record of the woman:

Compounding this problem is newly-added section 171.0121, which requires both that a copy of the above certification be placed in the pregnant woman’s medical records (presumably permanently), and that the facility that performs the abortion retain a copy for at least seven years.See H.B. 15, Sec. 3 (adding TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. § 171.0121). Given the nature of the certification and the Act’s retention requirements, it is difficult to avoid the troubling conclusion that the Texas Legislature either wants to permanently brand women who choose to get abortions, or views these certifications as potential evidence to be used against physicians and women.

Sparks says that the medical record is “semi-private,” and is concerned that it might someday be subpoenaed for use in a court case. The only time that these would be seen in Court is if the woman herself sues the doctor.

Sparks also engages in a bit of ideological speech of his own about the requirement for the abortionist to describe  “the presence of cardiac activity,” and “the presence of external members and internal organs.”

“ The Court does not think the disclosures required by the Act are particularly relevant to any compelling government  interest, but whatever relevance they may have is greatly diminished by the disclosures already required under Texas law, which are more directly pertinent to those interests.”

and, from page 50:

The net result of these provisions is: (1) a physician is required to say things and take expressive actions with which the physician may not ideologically agree, and which the physician may feel are medically unnecessary; (2) the pregnant woman must not only passively receive this potentially unwanted speech and expression, but must also actively participate—in the best case by simply signing an election form, and in the worst case by disclosing in writing extremely personal, medically irrelevant facts; and (3) the entire experience must be memorialized in records that are,at best, semi-private. In 7 the absence of a sufficiently weighty government interest, and a sufficiently narrow statute advancing that interest, neither of which have been argued by Defendants, the Constitution does not permit such compulsion.

Edit to add this question: How can a doctor “not ideologically agree” with the facts visible on the sonogram when describing heart or limbs?

In my opinion, the worst part of the ruling is Spark’s legal-speak on “compelling’ and his insistence on bringing back the ever-moving line of “viability:”

Second, while Casey refers to the government’s interest in potential life as “important,” “substantial,” and “legitimate,” it stops short of characterizing it as “compelling.” Indeed, one of the holdings of Roe v. Wade, and one this Court does not interpret Casey as having overruled, was that “[w]ith respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the ‘compelling’ point is at viability.”

Tell me, Judge Sparks, just what is “viability?” 24 weeks, 20 or 18 weeks?

link to Part 1 and “sticky” added September 5, 2011 12:19 PM BBN

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Conservative Christian Family Doctor, promoting conservative news and views. (Hot Air under the right wing!)


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