ACLU, Planned Parenthood sue over NC abortion law

Posted September 29, 2011 10:09 a.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2011 6:33 p.m. EDT

— Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, filed suit Thursday to overturn a new state law requiring women to undergo counseling and wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion.

Lawmakers passed the law, known as the Woman's Right to Know Act, in July over Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto. It doesn't take effect until late October.

In addition to a waiting period, the law requires that the woman have an ultrasound within 72 hours of the planned abortion and have the images of the fetus within view and be offered the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat.

Meanwhile, the health care provider must explain the age, size, position and physical features of the fetus. The law also requires the provider to tell a woman seeking an abortion that alternatives like adoption are available, that she may be able to get medical assistance, welfare and food stamps to help her with living expenses if she keeps her child and that the father of the child could be sued for child support.

The lawsuit alleges that the requirements violate the rights of women and health care providers.

"Politicians just should not be interfering with the doctor-patient relationship in this way," said Katy Parker, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

Melissa Reed, Planned Parenthood's vice president for public policy called the law "mean spirited, dangerous and unconstitutional."

"This really treats women as children, as if they don't already make a majority of the nation's health care decisions based on intelligence and moral fortitude," Reed said.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said the goal of the law is to reduce the number of abortions in North Carolina by ensuring women have as much information as possible about fetal development and alternatives to ending their pregnancies.

"We don't believe that information is really being provided," Dollar said. "By ensuring that information will be provided, women can make an informed choice."

He also fired back at Planned Parenthood's stance that lawmakers are interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.

"Planned Parenthood is the political animal here," he said.

Bebe Anderson, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which also is taking part in the lawsuit, said courts in Oklahoma and Texas have already blocked ultrasound requirements in those states.

"(The North Carolina law) turns doctors into mouthpieces for politicians' ideological message," Anderson said.

Planned Parenthood recently won a court challenge to North Carolina's state budget, which included a provision that would have blocked the organization and its affiliates from receiving any contracts or grants from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The group said the funding ban violated its free-speech protections because it advocates for abortion rights. A federal judge stopped the ban from taking effect until the suit could be heard.

State and federal law prevent the use of public money for abortions, but Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina receives more than $200,000 a year from the state to provide family planning, primary health care for low-income women and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.