Court orders enforcement of Texas abortion law

PHOTO: Court orders enforcement of Texas abortion law

A federal appeals court on Friday ordered the immediate enforcement of a new Texas abortion law that asks abortion providers to play pregnant women the sounds of the fetal heartbeat.

The law, enacted in 2011, requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound on pregnant women, show and describe the image to them, and play sounds of the fetal heartbeat. Though women can decline to view images or hear the heartbeat, they must listen to a description of the exam.

On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had overturned a federal judge's decision to block the law, ruling that the sonogram requirements do not infringe on abortion providers' free-speech rights.

Then on Thursday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked the appeals court to make its decision effective immediately, shortening the 22-day waiting period typically required under the court's rules. The appeals court granted the request in a one-sentence order less than a day later.

"There is no justification for Texas to have insisted on the immediate enforcement of this intrusive and demeaning law, nor the court of appeals to have granted it without giving us an opportunity to be heard," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents a coalition of abortion providers challenging the law.

The Texas Department of State Health Services expected to implement its enforcement plan in the coming weeks, spokeswoman Carrie Williams said. The department was finalizing its notification letters that it will send to abortion facilities and inspectors, Williams said.

While a woman seeking an abortion can decline to view the legally required ultrasound and the heartbeat, she cannot decline to hear the physician's description of it unless she qualifies for an exception due to rape, incest or fetal abnormality.