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Pro-life Groups Want Women Informed – Sometimes

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The pro-life movement has a baffling relationship with the concept of being “informed.”

Yesterday, US District Judge Sam Sparks ruled that, because of an appellate court’s earlier decision, he was unable to block Texas’s new sonogram law from taking effect. That 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel, he said, “has effectively eviscerated the protections of the First Amendment in the abortion context.”

He’s referring to provisions in the law that require abortion doctors to perform a sonogram 24 hours in advance, play the fetal heartbeat aloud, show the sonogram to the patient and describe the fetus’s features, including limb length and the development of any internal organs. Doctors must do this even if they feel it is inappropriate or medically unnecessary, or if the patient asks them not to. The only exception granted is for patients who sign a form stating they are the victim of rape or incest and that they intend to pursue legal action, unless they believe doing so would put them in physical danger. Clinics must keep these intimate affidavits on file for years.

Sounds like a horrifying invasion of privacy, right?

Nope, say pro-life groups. It’s just informed consent. This is about empowering women, they say. What could be wrong with making sure women really, really understand what they’re about to do?

Last fall, Judge Sparks granted a temporary injunction against the law after pro-choice groups sued, claiming it violated doctors’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to deliver politically motivated speech. But Judge Edith Jones, of the 5th Circuit wrote that it and other so- called “informed consent” laws are fine “if they require truthful, nonmisleading, and relevant disclosures.”

Then, couldn’t it be considered “truthful, nonmisleading and relevant” to let women approaching a “crisis pregnancy center” know what such centers do and do not provide?

Nope, say pro-life groups. That’s unconstitutional.

The City of Austin is locked in a legal wrangle with pro-life groups who are suing over an ordinance requiring “crisis pregnancy centers,” which do not provide abortions or contraceptives or refer patients to places that do, to have a bilingual notice at their entrance stating just that.

Last week, the Austin City Council unanimously decided to repeal the current ordinance, which is being sued, and pass one that requires only that the notice state that there is no licensed medical professional on site. Pro-life groups are still suing.

“We are saddened that the City of Austin has approved yet a second unlawful ordinance that violates our client’s First Amendment rights to free speech and exercise of their religious beliefs,” said Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and director of legislative affairs for Liberty Institute in Austin, in a press release.

Resistance to accurate labeling of crisis pregnancy centers helps prove that the sonogram law wasn’t about providing women with “relevant, nonmisleading” information.

Judge Sparks knows what it was about. In yesterday’s ruling he states, “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.”

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.