Hands Tied by Appeals Court, Texas District Court Decides it Cannot Permanently Block State Ultrasound Law

Center will focus on petition for new hearing before full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

(PRESS RELEASE) Following a decision by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a preliminary injunction blocking key provisions of Texas’ extreme anti-abortion ultrasound law, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks decided he could not grant the Center for Reproductive Rights’ request to permanently halt enforcement.

Judge Sparks heard oral arguments on January 20 on the Center’s efforts to secure a permanent injunction against the law’s provisions, which require doctors to convey sonogram details to women seeking abortions — even if it goes against the doctor’s medical judgment and the women say no.

“There can be little doubt that [the law] is an attempt by the Texas Legislature to discourage women from exercising their constitutional rights by making it more difficult for caring and competent physicians to perform abortions,” Sparks wrote in his decision today.

He added: “It appears the panel has effectively eviscerated the protections of the First Amendment in the abortion context,” and “in no other medical context does the government go so far in telling doctors what they must, and must not, do.”

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights: “It is a terrible injustice that Judge Sparks could not rule in favor of protecting the constitutional rights of Texas doctors because of the Fifth Circuit panel’s decision. We urge the full Fifth Circuit to consider Judge Sparks’ sound legal analysis when reviewing our request for a new hearing.”

On January 10, a panel of three judges on the Fifth Circuit overturned the district court’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law and reserved jurisdiction over all further appeals in the case. The Center has filed a petition requesting that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rehear the case en banc — in which all judges in the circuit court would hear the case, rather than a selected panel.

The Center filed the class action in June 2011 against the ultrasound requirements on behalf of Texas medical providers performing abortions and their patients.  The case, Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey, was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights along with co-counsel Richard Alan Grigg of Spivey & Grigg, LLP in Austin, Susan L. Hays of the Law Office of Susan Hays, PC in Dallas, and Alex Lawrence and Jamie A. Levitt of Morrison & Foerster, LLP in New York.