In an order released this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court refused, over a dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia, to review a ruling striking down North Carolina’s 2011 law requiring doctors to give women a narrated ultrasound before undergoing an abortion. The Court’s decision means the law, which had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, cannot go into effect.
“North Carolinians should take comfort in knowing that this intrusive and unconstitutional law, which placed the ideological agenda of politicians above a doctor’s ability to provide a patient with the specific care she needs, will never go into effect,” Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement. “We’re very glad the courts have recognized that politicians have no business interfering in personal medical decisions that should be left to a woman and her doctor.”
Over a veto by then-Governor Bev Perdue, state lawmakers enacted the Woman’s Right to Know Act in July 2011. The law requires in relevant part that a doctor perform an ultrasound on a patient – regardless of consent — at least four hours before an abortion, showing her the images and describing what is seen.
As described by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in her January 2014 decision overturning the law:
The patient must lie on an examination table where she either (i) exposes the lower portion of her abdomen, or (ii) is naked from the waist down, covered only by a drape. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, the provider (i) inserts an ultrasound probe into the patient’s vagina, or (ii) places an ultrasound probe on her abdomen.
The provider must display the images produced from the ultrasound “so that the pregnant woman may view them.” Providers must then give “a simultaneous explanation of what the display is depicting, which shall include the presence, location, and dimensions of the unborn child within the uterus,” and “a medical description of the images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.”
The patient need not view the images nor listen to the description by the doctor; she can look away or shield her eyes and ask for ear plugs or some other device to block her hearing.
The law provides no exceptions for patients who are victims of rape or incest, who are minors or who may be carrying a fetus with severe abnormalities or which is not otherwise viable.
On appeal, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Eagles and blocked enforcement of the law, finding that it violated the First Amendment rights of physicians who provide abortions.