On Friday, a federal appeals court ordered the immediate enforcement of a Texas law requiring doctors to subject all women seeking abortions to an ultrasound, to show them an image of the fetus, and to play them the sound of the fetal heartbeat. (Women can decline to view the images or listen to the heartbeat, but they have to listen to a description of the exam).

Advocates for reproductive rights argued that the law---which one blogger described as "yet another hoop in the series people with unwanted or dangerous pregnancies must jump through to get access to medical care"---violated abortion providers' right to free speech, on the grounds that forcing abortion doctors to say something (i.e., to verbally describe the exam) is just as bad as denying them the opportunity to say something.

Meanwhile, pharmacists and doctors can refuse to dispense medication or provide services on the grounds that doing so would violate their "conscience," yet providers who believe it's wrong to subject women to an ultrasound and a lecture on fetal development are not allowed to refuse to do so on similar grounds---a double standard that privileges religious extremists over advocates for women and women's right to make their own reproductive choices. (In Washington State, a federal appeals court is expected to rule on a case involving pharmacists who claim their religious beliefs allow them to refuse to stock or dispense emergency contraception later this month).

I'm not a lawyer, but both arguments seem eminently sound to me. No doctor should be forced to read from a script he or she believes is harmful to his or her patients, and "conscience" laws, if they must exist, should apply not only to religious zealots seeking the right to refuse care, but also to providers whose conscience dictates that they shouldn't subject women to a cruel, invasive, and costly procedure.