By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Pro-choice advocates on Wednesday asked a federal judge to block a new Texas law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram and view the results.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights on Wednesday that he would rule on their request before the law goes into effect.
The law, which goes into effect on September 1 and gives doctors a month after that to comply, was identified as "emergency" legislation by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is considering a run for president.
The groups are asking that the law be blocked while their legal challenges to its constitutionality make their way through the courts.
The New York-based center said in its legal brief to the court that the bill "forces physicians to deliver their patients government-mandated speech, consisting of visual, auditory, and verbal descriptions of the fetus, that falls outside the accepted medical standards for informed consent."
"This law is asking them to do something unethical at the cost of threatening to prosecute doctors for a crime, and forcing them to lose their medical license," said Susan Hays, a Dallas lawyer for the New York-based Center.
Supporters of the legislation told the judge they would defend the law, which passed the Texas Legislature earlier this year.
"Obviously, our group, other entities, and the state feel very strongly that this statute is constitutional," said Jonathan Saenz, attorney for the conservative Liberty Institute, a conservative group based in Plano, Texas.
Under the Texas law, the abortion provider would be required to describe the fetus and its limbs and organs and have the woman listen to the heartbeat of the fetus. It also requires that a woman wait 24 hours after the sonogram before undergoing the abortion.
Doctors who break the law could face sanctions, including the loss of their right to practice medicine in Texas.
The restrictions are waived in cases of sexual assault, and the waiting time is reduced to two hours for women who live 100 miles or more from the abortion provider.
Opponents in the Texas Legislature said the measure as a basic intrusion into the privacy rights of women and doctors, and attempted to add an amendment requiring the father of the unborn child to undergo a vasectomy.
Supporters of the bill have said it is necessary to protect the rights of unborn children.
Texas is one of several states which have enacted legislation to restrict abortion this year, including bans on late term abortions or moves to cut state funds to health providers that perform the procedure.
Such bills were able to pass this year after the November 2010 elections ushered in Republican majorities in numerous state legislatures.
Nineteen states regulate the provision of ultrasound by abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Texas would be No. 20 if the law goes into effect as planned.
The requirements in those states vary widely; some of them require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion, similar to the Texas law. Others require only that she be offered the chance to see the image if an ultrasound is performed.
And with those laws come the legal challenges, some of which have been successful.
A federal judge last week dismissed a tough abortion law passed in South Dakota, and a federal judge in Kansas earlier Wednesday struck down a law that would have limited that state to one abortion clinic.
The Kansas law set out specific building code regulations for abortion providers, specifying the size of janitorial closets and the proper temperature in recovery rooms.
(Editing by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)