Appeals court strikes down NC abortion provision

Posted December 22, 2014

Ultrasound, sonogram, fetus

— The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday declared as unconstitutional a North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to show a woman an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before she can have an abortion.

The decision upholds a lower-court ruling from January and likely will send the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar law in Texas, and spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the North Carolina Attorney General's Office plans to petition the high court to take up the cases to resolve the different rulings.

"This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind," the 4th Circuit judges wrote in their 37-page opinion. "The means used by North Carolina extend well beyond those states have customarily employed to effectuate their undeniable interests in ensuring informed consent and in protecting the sanctity of life in all its phases."

The law requires abortion providers performing an ultrasound to 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 heartbeat.

The measure provided an exception only in cases of a medical emergency, and any physician who didn't comply with the requirement faced the loss of his or her medical license.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America challenged the law, known as the Women's Right to Know Act, which legislators passed in 2011 over then-Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles stayed the narration provision of the law three months after the veto override, saying it likely violated the First Amendment. Other provisions, including the requirement for an ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, were allowed to go into effect.

"The First Amendment not only protects against prohibitions of speech, but also against regulations that compel speech," the appellate judges wrote. "A regulation compelling speech is by its very nature content-based, because it requires the speaker to change the content of his speech or even to say something where he would otherwise be silent."

The ruling was quickly hailed by abortion-rights supporters and criticized by opponents.

“We’re thrilled that the appellate court rejected this unconscionable attempt to intrude on the doctor-patient relationship,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Exam rooms are no place for propaganda, and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women.”

"Abortion in America today is safe, and no doctor should be forced to deliver government mandated information that has nothing to do with promoting women’s health," Melissa Reed, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina, said in a statement. "Politicians are not medical experts, but politicians have written this law with the ultimate goal of restricting access to safe, legal abortion."

"The abortion industry wants to keep women from receiving this scientific information, so they can keep lying to women about the fact that abortion kills their unborn child. The Fourth Circuit’s decision has placed profit above truth and science," Tami Fitzgerald, director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a statement.

"We are highly disappointed in the Fourth Circuit's opinion and continue to believe that the display and description of the unborn child by the physician through an ultrasound is vital to ensuring truly informed consent," John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said in a statement. "We pray that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up this case on appeal and reverse the lower courts' misguided rulings."

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh called the ruling "a disservice to women."

"An ultrasound is a window into the womb of the mother, and the image of her child provides her with valuable information," Burbidge said in a statement.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Dec 30, 2014

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    There's Half a Million already-born children in foster homes waiting for you to adopt them, so what's your point?

    And since you mentioned "trees", do you think that humans will be able to continue to increase population without *any* regard to the planet and its resources? In other words, do you think that finite resources are infinitely available?

  • John Gardner Dec 26, 2014
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    CHIPSWUN29, what color is the sky in the fantasy world you live in? Do you really just make stuff up about people you dislike?

  • chipswun29 Dec 25, 2014

    Neocons are great...the believe that "life begins at conception and ends at birth"..they are the first ones in line to cut life lines for millions of people, they cut food for children who go to bed with hunger pains, right here in the richest country in the world, pro life really? Whose life might that be? They took away meals for our home bound seniors and vets, pro life really? ...this has nothing to do with the zygote, embryo, fetus, babies and everything to do with a group of misogynists who are threatened by women, and trying to control them by taking away their rights. If you dont believe in abortions dont have one but no one has the right to dictate to complete strangers (all of which just happen to be women) what they can and cant do with her own body, they have no right to dictate another persons future.

  • chipswun29 Dec 25, 2014

    "and any physician who didn't comply with the requirement faced the loss of his or her medical license."......................And some of you seriously dont see anything wrong with that? For a group of people who scream for less government they have their noses stuck everyplace it doesn't belong., their actions speak so much louder than their empty words.
    The only less government they want are those of the regulatory branches.

  • Terry Lightfoot Dec 24, 2014
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    Well said Grand Union ( Station? ) : )

  • caronia49 Dec 23, 2014

    This is sad news.....

  • Pepe Silvia Dec 23, 2014

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    I agree, but we aren't talking about killing children here.

  • Sonny Melton Dec 23, 2014
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    And you have it wrong my friend. Killing children is not the answer.

  • Pepe Silvia Dec 23, 2014

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    That "logic" doesn't work. Any life found on Mars - single celled or otherwise - would be a unique scientific discovery because it was previously unknown.

    Humans - even you - destroy life every day. You eat, you breath, you use pest control to keep away and kill insects, you wash your hands and kill germs and bacteria....

    If a mosquito landed on your arm, you'd think nothing of swatting it. If a mosquito was spotted flying around around Mars that would be unexpected and studied.

    If a cow was found on Mars it would a big deal but here it is a future hamburger.

  • Pepe Silvia Dec 23, 2014

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    ...And I'm a foster parent, what is your point?

    Nothing in your response clarifies your original statement.

    As an adoptive parent you should realize just how many kids that are already on this planet who don't have families.