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Fifth Circuit Mulls Free Speech Rights Under Texas Sonogram Bill

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 06, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Wednesday in the Texas Sonogram Bill case, Texas Medical Providers, et al v. David Lakey.

The New Orleans-based court will decide whether to lift U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks' order blocking enforcement of Texas H.B. 15, which requires a doctor to perform a sonogram on a woman requesting an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure. The law also mandates that the doctor describe the unborn child to the woman, and list agencies that offer alternatives to abortion.

In August, Judge Sparks enjoined the state "from enforcing any penalties against a doctor who does not place sonogram pictures where a pregnant woman may see them, or does not make the heartbeat audible," reports CNN. Judge Sparks said the provisions violated doctors' and patients' free speech rights by mandating speech.

The Liberty Institute submitted an amicus brief to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Sonogram Bill's sponsors, claiming that the Fifth Circuit should lift Judge Sparks' order because the state "has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life." Texas Medical Providers are challenging the law.

(Sidebar: If the case sounds vaguely familiar, it could be because this is one of several cases for which Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Edith Jones chastised Sparks in September. In August, Judge Sparks issued an order announcing that an attorney who requested leave to file an amicus brief in the matter was incompetent.)

If the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts Judge Sparks' order, doctors who fail to comply with the law would risk losing their licenses and incurring a $10,000 fine, reports Politico. The Fifth Circuit declined to rule on the order during Wednesday's hearing.

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