The Brief: Top Texas News for Aug. 31, 2011

The Big Conversation:

A federal judge's ruling has thrust abortion into the Texas spotlight alongside Gov. Rick Perry.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin on Tuesday blocked enforcement of Texas' new abortion sonogram law, which would have taken effect Thursday. The state cannot enforce the sonogram law — one of the most controversial issues of the 82nd legislative session — until a court rules on a suit filed against the law in June, Sparks said.

Citing First Amendment protections, Sparks struck down three requirements that would have required doctors to show women an ultrasound of the fetus, make the fetus' heartbeat audible and describe the fetus to the woman.

"The act compels 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," Sparks wrote in his ruling.

Opponents of the law, including the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit, cheered Sparks' decision. "Today's ruling is a huge victory for women in Texas and a clear signal to the state legislature that it went too far when it passed this law," Nancy Northup, the center's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Politicians have no business telling doctors how to practice medicine or meddling in women's private medical decisions."

Attorney General Greg Abbott promised to appeal the ruling, and Perry in a statement called the decision "a great disappointment to all Texans who stand in defense of life."

"Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy," Perry said, adding, "This important sonogram legislation ensures that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying and understands the devastating impact of such a life-changing decision."

Though social issues have so far played only a small role in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Sparks' ruling could shift the conversation back to abortion, at least for Perry, who, as the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reports today, seems to have struck a harsher anti-abortion tone every year since taking office.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, Texas will file its appeal in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation.

Culled:

  • At the urging of supporters spooked by surging Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has so far taken a slow-and steady approach to the race, appears to be stepping up campaign efforts, having recently added plans to attend more Tea Party events, grant more TV interviews and roll out additional endorsements, Politico reports. The Dallas Morning News also reports today that Romney — who on Tuesday in an address to veterans in San Antonio took a thinly veiled swipe at Perry — plans to return to Texas next month in hopes of siphoning potential campaign cash from Perry.
  • Another day, another poll showing Rick Perry in front. Quinnipiac today puts Perry ahead of of Mitt Romney by 6 points, 24 percent to 18 percent — significant, but smaller than the double-digit lead Perry has held in a series of polls released within the past week.
  • San Antonio will soon offer benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, but couples will first have to prove they're in committed relationships, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Domestic partners, both same sex and opposite sex, will be asked to sign an affidavit confirming their relationship and then provide documentation proving they've been together for at least 6 months.

"I have spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess, and they simply don’t know how to get us out."Mitt Romney on Tuesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in San Antonio

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