Court Strikes Down Texas Ultrasound Law

by Michael New

Earlier this week, a federal judge blocked part of a pro-life ultrasound law in Texas. Ultrasound laws, which have become popular at the state level, require that abortion providers perform an ultrasound and give the woman an opportunity to view the image prior to an abortion. Arizona passed the first such law in 1999, and about 12 other states have followed suit.

Contrary to what the media is reporting, this decision does not jeopardize the other ultrasound laws that are currently in effect, because the Texas law was unique in a couple of ways. The law required the abortion provider to make an audible heartbeat available to the woman, and also to provide a detailed verbal description of the unborn child pictured in the sonogram. Now, these features may not have made the law unconstitutional, but they did make the law easier to demonize, and they may have made it easier for an agenda-driven judge to strike down the law. 

In light of this decision, pro-lifers may wish to reconsider their legislative strategy (though any efforts to further regulate abortion are certainly welcome). Because they are a recent innovation, there is little research about the effectiveness of these ultrasound laws. Also, regulations which require abortion clinics to police themselves may be less effective than pro-lifers would hope. 

There is evidence which shows that the most effective informed-consent laws are those that require women to make two separate trips to the abortion clinic. These requirements have been found constitutional and can increase the economic costs of an abortion. This is one part of the Texas law that other states should emulate.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.

The Corner

The one and only.