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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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