Planned Parenthood, others plan lawsuit over new abortion law

A half dozen groups, including Planned Parenthood, are planning to challenge a new state law that requires women to wait 24 hours and undergo counseling before an abortion.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A half dozen groups, including Planned Parenthood, are planning to challenge a new state law that requires women to wait 24 hours and undergo counseling before an abortion.

The law, titled the “Woman’s Right to Know Act,” also requires that the woman undergo an ultrasound within four to 72 hours of the abortion and have the images of the fetus within view. Meanwhile, the health care provider must explain the age, size, position and physical features of the fetus.

Sarah Preston, a spokeswoman with the American Civil Liberties Union, said a key problem with the law is access.

"What the U.S. Supreme Court said is you can't put substantial obstacles in the way of a woman trying to access her right to an abortion. Our position is this creates too many burdens," Preston said Wednesday. 

In addition to the waiting period and ultrasound, a woman also must be offered the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat. She must then sign a document indicating whether she chose to look or listen, and the doctor must keep the document for seven years.

Additionally, doctors, who are already required by the state’s informed-consent law to provide medical details about the procedure, will now be required 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.

Preston said the information required to be provided to the woman is "clearly biased. Most is non-medical, and it doesn't respond to the woman's medical need. This goes above what the Supreme Court has in the past said is acceptable."

Opponents have especially taken issue with the ultrasound images being within view and the technician or doctor being required to explain the physical features of the fetus.

"The people were so driven by their ideology," Planned Parenthood Health Inc.'s Melissa Reed said.

House Majority Leader Paul Stam called the arguments of the law’s opponents "factually wrong and bogus." Providing additional information and time to make a decision is not a barrier, he said.

Stam said he thinks the information women are now required to receive before an abortion will help guide them to make a different choice. He pointed to legislative staff estimates that suggest that 10 percent of women would change their minds about having an abortion. He said he thinks the new information would push that number to 20 percent.

Women are free to look away from the ultrasound images and ask the technician to "speak softer" while explaining the features of the fetus, he said.

As for the waiting period, Stam noted that there is a 30-day waiting period for sterilization.

The law is expected to cost $6.7 million a year, and Stam said the majority of that will go toward the delivery of more children. He said an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 children will be born as a result of the bill.

Preston said the law "shames and pushes a woman toward one decision instead of allowing them to make their own choice, which is what the Supreme Court said a woman has the right to do."

Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, Planned Parenthood Health Systems Inc., ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights and NARAL Pro-Choice America plan to meet on Thursday to determine a strategy for filing a lawsuit.

Stam said he isn't surprised that certain groups are planning a lawsuit. "If you read abortion case law, half of them are Planned Parenthood suing over something," he said.


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