Federal court strikes down NC abortion ultrasound law

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles has struck down a North Carolina law requiring physicians to perform an ultrasound and explain the images on the screen in detail four hours before providing an abortion.

Press release from the ACLU:

GREENSBORO, NC – A federal district judge today struck down a North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to show a woman an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before having an abortion, even if the woman objects.

The court ruled that key provisions of the law violate doctors’ free speech rights. The law was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“Today the court sided with the rights of women and their doctors over the ideological agenda of extremist lawmakers,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “If these unconstitutional measures had gone into effect, doctors would have been prevented from using their best medical judgment to provide patients with care based on their specific individual needs. This law represented an egregious government intrusion into individuals’ private medical decisions, and we are very pleased that it will not go into effect.”

The law would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight. The provider would then be required to describe the embryo or fetus in detail, even if the woman asked the doctor not to, and to offer the woman the opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone.”

“The state should not be using women’s bodies as political pawns,” said Andrew Beck, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.  “As a result of the court’s decision, doctors will be able to continue to give their patients the kind of conscientious medical care they deserve.”

While the law would have allowed the woman to avert her eyes and to “refuse to hear,” the provider would still have been required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail, even as she was trying not to see the images or hear the description. The measure would make no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest, or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy.

No word yet on whether or not the state plans to appeal, though RH Reality Check predicted in August an appeal would be “almost certain” (read more here). We’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

Read the court order:

Update 1/22/14:

The News & Observer has the latest on the possibility of an appeal:

Attorney General Roy Cooper has not yet decided whether to appeal the case. Spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the office is “reviewing the ruling, and will make the decision about an appeal in consultation with the governor and the legislature.”

McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo would not say directly whether or not the governor supports an appeal.

His office issued a statement Wednesday avoiding taking a position on the issue. “We respect the court’s decision and review of the process,” McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo said in statement.

News & Observer – McCrory weighing appeal on ultrasound ruling

 

More information:

WRAL – Judge tosses NC requirement for ultrasounds before abortions

News & Observer – Federal judge strikes down NC’s ultrasound abortion law

RH Reality Check – Federal court permanently blocks North Carolina ultrasound law

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