Greensboro, N.C. — A federal judge on Friday struck down 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.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that key provisions of the law violate doctors’ free speech rights.
"The Supreme Court has never held that a state has the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state‟s ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term, and this court declines to do so today," Eagles said in a 42-page ruling.
“The court sided with the rights of women and their doctors over the ideological agenda of extremist lawmakers,” Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement.
The ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America challenged the law, which legislators passed in 2011 over then-Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto.
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 ultrasound provision would have required 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 made no exceptions for women who had been raped, were victims of incest or were seeking an abortion for medical reasons or in the case of a terminal pregnancy.
"The state has not established that the speech-and-display provision directly advances a substantial state interest in regulating health care, especially when the state does not require the patient to receive the message and the patient takes steps to avoid receipt of the message," Eagles ruled.
“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," Rudinger said. "This law represented an egregious government intrusion into individuals’ private medical decisions, and we are very pleased that it will not go into effect."
Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh said he was "deeply saddened" by the ruling.
"This ruling does a great disservice to the women of our state, as it denies those who are pregnant from receiving full access to all available medical information," Burbidge said in a statement. "Women are entitled to and deserve our respect, compassion and support, and so to deny a woman from receiving the truth, especially with regard to a decision which will impact her life and the life of her unborn child, is to deny her the freedom of information that all people expect from their health care providers."