News Abortion

Breaking: Federal Judge Blocks North Carolina Ultrasound Requirements

Jodi Jacobson

From The Republic: A federal judge has blocked a portion of North Carolina’s new abortion restrictions that would make new requirements of medical providers who perform ultrasounds on pregnant women. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, the day before the law is enforceable. Eagles blocked a provision regarding what must […]

From The Republic:

A federal judge has blocked a portion of North Carolina’s new abortion restrictions that would make new requirements of medical providers who perform ultrasounds on pregnant women.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, the day before the law is enforceable. Eagles blocked a provision regarding what must be shown and told to a woman when an ultrasound is performed at least four hours before the scheduled procedure.

The section required the medical worker to put the electronic image of the fetus in front of the pregnant woman, describe what the woman may view and offer her the chance to listen to the fetal heart beat.

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Eagles said other sections of the law — including a 24-hour waiting period — can be enforced.

News Law and Policy

Federal Court Permanently Blocks North Carolina Ultrasound Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

According to the court, the 2011 law violates abortion providers' free speech rights.

On Friday, a federal court struck down a North Carolina law mandating abortion providers perform a narrated ultrasound four hours before performing an abortion, even if the patient having the procedure objects.

The North Carolina law, passed by the General Assembly in 2011 over the veto of then-Gov. Bev Perdue, is considered one of the most extreme ultrasound laws in the country. The law requires that abortion providers perform an ultrasound and place the image in the patient’s line of sight. The provider must then describe the embryo or fetus in detail and offer the patient the opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone,” even over the objections of the patient. The law contains a narrow exception that allows a patient to avert their eyes and “refuse to hear” the description, but the provider is still required to place the images in front of the patient and describe them in detail, even if a patient tries to avoid them. The law forces this procedure on all patients, even those terminating pregnancies due to rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly, or the health of the patient.

Civil rights advocates successfully challenged the ultrasound law, and in October 2011 a federal court preliminarily blocked it from going into effect. Last week’s ruling makes that preliminary injunction permanent.

“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,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, in a statement. “This law represented an egregious government intrusion into individuals’ private medical decisions, and we are very pleased that it will not go into effect.”

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According to the court, the North Carolina law unconstitutionally violates doctors’ First Amendment free speech rights. The law “compels a health care provider to act as the state’s courier” and to “disseminate the state’s message discouraging abortion, in the provider’s own voice, in the middle of a medical procedure, and under circumstances where it would seem the message is the provider’s and not the state’s.” This is state-compelled speech, the court explained, and not allowed under the First Amendment. According to the court, the law serves “no legitimate purpose” and forces providers to “deliver the state’s message to women who take steps not to hear it and to women who will be harmed by receiving it.”

In a statement, Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup heralded the decision as a “robust affirmation of the First Amendment rights of physicians.” She applauded the court for “making clear that politicians cannot use physicians as mouthpieces for their political agenda and interfere with patients’ personal decision making.”

North Carolina is among a handful of states to have recently passed laws requiring a patient to undergo a mandatory ultrasound prior to terminating a pregnancy. “Over the last three years, we’ve seen a record number of bills introduced, passed, and signed into law that either cut off a woman from access to safe, legal abortion outright, or insert politics directly into doctors’ offices,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement. The ruling, Richards said, “marks a major victory for North Carolina women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: it is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions.”

Lawyers for the State of North Carolina have the option to appeal the decision, which would send the matter to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for consideration. So far, mandatory ultrasound laws have had mixed support from the federal courts. A similar law is in effect in Texas after Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s injunction blocking it. But in November 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a similar law from Oklahoma, allowing a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocking the measure as unconstitutional to stand.

News Law and Policy

Federal Court Hears Arguments in Legal Challenge to North Carolina Ultrasound Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal court will consider whether or not to permanently block the state's 2011 mandatory ultrasound law.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will hear arguments Friday in the legal challenge to North Carolina’s forced ultrasound law, bringing the issue one step closer to a possible Supreme Court review.

Passed in 2011 despite a veto by then-Gov. Bev Perdue, the law requires that a physician perform an ultrasound four hours prior to providing an abortion. Under the law, the doctor must place the screen in the patient’s view while describing the images in detail, but a patient may “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and “refuse to hear” the provider’s description of the images. The law also requires providers to offer the patient an opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone” before the procedure as well.

Like many of the recent anti-abortion measures, the North Carolina law has no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, health of the mother, or fatal fetal abnormalities.

The lawsuit was filed on September 29, 2011, by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, Planned Parenthood Health Systems, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, challenging the law’s constitutionality. In October of that year, Judge Eagles issued a preliminary injunction blocking key portions of the bill from taking effect and ruling that those challenging the law had shown they were likely to succeed on their claims.

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Should Judge Eagles issue a permanent injunction, lawyers for the State of North Carolina would almost certainly appeal the decision, sending the matter to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for consideration. In 2012, Judge Edith Jones and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ forced ultrasound law, while the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked that state’s ultrasound law. The conflicting opinions, along with hints from the Roberts Court that it is interested in these issue, makes it all but certain the Supreme Court will step in within the next two years.

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