State health officials began enforcing the state's sonogram law Feb. 6 after a federal judge in Austin reluctantly dismissed a lawsuit challenging it. Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey, MD, notified physicians that the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will review physicians' documentation to make sure they comply with the law.
Dr. Lakey's letter to physicians, a form that women must complete before undergoing an abortion, and a form that indicates an abortion is a medical emergency, are posted on the DSHS website.
The legislature passed the law, known as the Woman's Right to Know Act, last year. It requires most women to receive a sonogram and hear an explanation of what it reveals about the fetus at least 24 hours before an abortion.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said a federal appeals court ruling last month forced him to dismiss the lawsuit, even though he believes it violates the U.S. Constitution. The appeals court said the law is an appropriate use of the state's power to regulate the practice of medicine.
In his order dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Sparks said the law "requires doctors to attempt to discourage their patients from obtaining abortions ... even in cases where the doctors have determined that an abortion is, for any number of reasons, the best medical option. This court believes Texas overstepped its legitimate authority when it substituted its medical judgment for that of doctors, and imposed a uniform method of treatment for all patients, rather than allowing physicians to make medically appropriate, case-by-case determinations."
During the debate over the bill in last year's legislative session, then-TMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, wrote Senate Committee on State Affairs Chair Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) that while TMA members are on both sides of the abortion issue, the association was concerned about the "dangerous precedent" the bill would set. She said it would "lay the foundation for future lawmakers to establish the details of the interaction between physicians and patients, and allow non-physicians to mandate what tests, procedures, or medicines must be provided to patients and in what timeframe. The sanctity of the patient-physician relationship is the foundation of health care in America, and it must be preserved to ensure candid communication and allow patients to evaluate their care options. The Legislature's role should not dictate how physicians and patients communicate with one another or what procedures and diagnostic tests must be performed on a given patient."
Action, Feb. 15, 2012