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Texas begins enforcing law requiring pre-abortion sonogram

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:59 AM EST, Wed February 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The law requires doctors to provide a sonogram to pregnant women before an abortion
  • Key parts of the law were temporarily blocked last year in a court ruling
  • An appeals court overturned that order last month, allowing officials to begin enforcement

(CNN) -- Texas health officials began enforcing Tuesday a controversial law that requires doctors to provide a sonogram to pregnant women before they get an abortion.

"Our inspection activity related to the law's requirements began today," said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Health Services. "Since we have posted guidance to the public and doctors and the abortion facilities and doctors, now in our routine inspections and complaint investigations we will be checking that the requirements of the law are being met in those facilities."

The enforcement follows last month's ruling from an appeals court that overturned a lower court's order blocking implementation of key parts of the law.

In August, just before the law was set to take effect September 1, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin found several portions of the law "unconstitutionally vague" and ruled that it violated the First Amendment by compelling doctors and patients to engage in government-mandated speech.

But the three-judge panel in January vacated Sparks' injunction against enforcing the law, saying opponents did not prove that it violated the Constitution.

As written, the law requires women seeking an abortion in Texas to view a picture of the embryo or fetus and hear a description of its development before having the procedure.

Sparks' injunction temporarily blocked Texas from enforcing any penalties against a doctor who failed to place sonogram pictures where a pregnant woman may see them or who does not make the fetus' heartbeat audible. It also blocked penalties against the woman.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Pennsylvania case "held that the fact that such truthful, accurate information may cause a woman to choose not to abort her pregnancy only reinforces its relevance to an informed decision," U.S. Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote in a concurring opinion. "Insisting that a doctor give this information in his traditional role of securing informed consent is permissible."

The bill generated some controversy in Texas but easily passed through the state's House and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.

CNN's Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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