AUSTIN (AP) – A federal appeals court cleared the way Friday for the immediate enforcement of a new abortion law in Texas requiring doctors to conduct a sonogram before the procedure.

The three-judge panel on Tuesday lifted a temporary stay issued by a district court judge who found the new law potentially unconstitutional, but did not issued a legal mandate. On Friday, the judges agreed to a request by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to cut short the typical three-week waiting period between a ruling and its implementation.

The new law requires doctors to conduct a sonogram before performing an abortion, to show the woman the image, to play the fetal heartbeat aloud and describe the features of the fetus at least 24 hours before the abortion. There are exceptions in the case of rape, incest, fetal deformities and for women who have to travel great distances to reach a doctor.

The most recent order does not give time for doctors fighting the law to appeal Jones’ decision, which under normal circumstances would not have gone into effect until Jan. 31. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which supports the doctors, did not have an immediate reaction to Friday’s order.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals order clears the way for the Texas Department of State Health Services to issue rules for complying with the law and to prosecute doctors who do not obey it. Lawmakers wrote the law so that enforcement would begin 30 days after it took effect on Sept. 1, 2011. It was not clear if that delay was still needed.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office referred questions about enforcing the law to State Health Services, which did not immediately return requests for comment.

The appeals court’s opinion issued Tuesday disagreed with District Court Judge Sam Sparks, who is hearing arguments next week on the overall constitutionality of the state dictating how the doctor talked to his or her patient. Chief Judge Edith Jones found the doctor’s objections insufficient to block enforcement of the law pending a final outcome of the trial in Sparks’ Austin courtroom.

One of the conservative supporters of the law, the Liberty Institute, welcomed the court’s decision not to delay the law any further.

“This court order means that the Texas sonogram law is to be enforced effective immediately, as it should be,” said Jonathan Saenz, the institute’s legislative director.

The question of whether the law is constitutional, though, still resides with Sparks. He has scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 20 and could rule any time after that. No matter what he decides, though, both sides are ready to appeal the case back to the Fifth Circuit.

Jones made clear in her ruling on Tuesday that she finds nothing wrong with the Texas law, even federal judges have objected to similar laws
in other states. The law is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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