Sidewinder Sam Sparks strikes Sonogram Law

Austin, TX — Federal District Court Judge Sam Sparks’ decision yesterday to grant a preliminary injunction on the Sonogram Bill (House Bill 15) is not surprising; Sparks is known for his sympathies toward the abortion industry.  Texas Right to Life and Senator Patrick worked alongside each other for five years on the sonogram bill to protect a woman’s right to informed consent before an abortion.  In his ruling, Judge Sparks accuses both the plaintiffs and defendants of waging an ideological war in his court room, yet he has done exactly that by enjoining the main points of the sonogram law.   

The sonogram law is a common sense piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Patrick and Representative Sid Miller to ensure that women receive all the medical facts prior to making a life-changing decision to abort an unborn child.  To delay this law taking effect is to further jeopardize the health of women entering abortion clinics.  The abortion industry has relied on Judge Sparks to accomplish what they could not accomplish in public opinion or in public policy—to stop ALL and ANY restrictions on abortion on demand.

In the June filing of the lawsuit to enjoin the bill, the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York based abortion advocacy group, submitted an assortment of accusations, ranging from vagueness of the law to undue burden and various violations of free speech.  In fact, Judge Sparks himself agreed that the plaintiffs’ (the Center for Reproductive Rights) strategy was “to throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks.”  

Surprisingly, Sparks’ injunction ruling note chided that he was not convinced by arguments that HB 15 created an undue burden to seeking an abortion, or that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.  Judge Sparks also did not think the bill subjected women to unwanted speech (which would violate the First Amendment).  The decision to delay the bill was based on two points: (1) HB 15 was unconstitutionally vague, and (2) HB 15 compelled speech from the physician and the woman seeking the abortion.  

The plaintiffs raised more than eleven vagueness arguments, drawing attention to various sections, phrases, and words they hoped would provide the judge enough standing to order an injunction.  Judge Sparks dismissed most of the vagueness arguments because while agreeing with, at least partially, and upholding three of the vagueness claims.  

State legislators carefully included a provision in the bill to ensure that neither the abortionist nor the woman seeking the abortion would be violating the law if the woman chooses NOT to receive the information presented by the sonogram.  However, the court twisted the meaning of this clarification and validated the vagueness on this part of the new law.   

In addition to the three vagueness arguments, Judge Sparks also opined that HB 15 compels speech from the physician and the woman seeking the abortion:  By requiring the physician to provide a verbal description of the preborn child as seen through the sonogram image, the law required the doctor to participate in “government-mandated speech” and violated his or her first amendment right.  Secondly, the Sonogram Law violated the woman’s first amendment right also by forcing her to reveal information she might not want to be made public, for example, whether her pregnancy is the result of rape or incest (if such was the case, the woman could certify this in writing and be exempt from parts of the law).    

Women who were victims of rape or whose preborn children are diagnosed with a fetal abnormality or life-threatening condition may opt out of hearing the verbal explanation of the sonogram image through a written certification form. Judge Sparks explained that requiring such disclosure in writing compelled the woman to reveal something against her wishes.   

On the basis of these three vagueness arguments and two compelled speech arguments, Judge Sam Sparks ordered that the law be partially enjoined until the legal fight is finished.  The outcome is that the law will not go into effect as anticipated on Thursday, September 1st. 

The injunction means that the very heart of the bill (the requirement that a sonogram be performed, the image be displayed and explained, and that the heartbeat made audible) cannot be enforced.  Therefore, no abortion doctor will be punished or penalized for concealing the truth from Texan women who deserve all the medically relevant information before making the life-changing decision of elective abortion.

Texas is blessed with an unapologetically Pro-Life Attorney General, Greg Abbott.  Texas Right to Life has been working closely with Attorney General Abbott and his staff, who have skillfully and tirelessly been defending the Sonogram Bill since June.  Texas Right to Life and these Pro-Life officials intend to continue fighting for the full enactment and enforcement of HB 15.  In fact, Attorney General Abbott has already filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court, requesting that the Sonogram Law will go into effect and be enforced even while the lower court is still processing a final decision on the law.