The right call on mandatory sonograms

One of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) top policy priorities of the year ran into trouble yesterday, when a federal judge found most of it unacceptable.

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked key provisions of Texas’ new law requiring a doctor to perform a sonogram before an abortion, ruling the measure violates the free speech rights of both doctors and patients.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks upheld the requirement that sonograms be performed, but struck down the provisions requiring doctors to describe the images to their patients and requiring women to hear the descriptions.

The law is an example of Big Government Conservatism at its most offensive. To hear Republicans tell it, the GOP’s line on health care is straightforward: the party wants government to steer clear of the doctor-patient relationship, and certainly has no use for bureaucrats making medical decisions and imposing care instructions based on some kind of ideological agenda. For that matter, it’s important, Republicans say, for politicians to appreciate growing health care costs, and not mandate unnecessary medical procedures.

The Republicans’ sonogram measure in Texas ignores all of those principles, forcing government into the examination room and empowering state officials to make a medical decision, while imposing care instructions based on an ideological agenda.

Indeed, under this Texas law, women would not only have to receive a sonogram whether it’s medically necessary or not, but medical professionals would be forced to tell their patients, against their will, what Republican policymakers want the patients to hear. Doctors who refused could face criminal penalties and the revocation of their medical license.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit, and yesterday, Judge Sparks blocked most of the law. He noted, among other things, that the state cannot compel physicians to “advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen.”

The court ruling will, of course, be appealed. In the meantime, though, it’s a victory for reproductive rights and a legal setback for the Republican presidential frontrunner.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.