WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today announced that it would not review a ruling striking down North Carolina’s 2011 law that would have forced a woman to undergo a narrated ultrasound before receiving abortion care. 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,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “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.”
In December 2014, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in December 2014 affirmed that the law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians by forcing them to deliver politically motivated communications to a patient even over the patient’s objection, declaring that “transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes.”
The law was preliminarily blocked in October 2011 following a lawsuit filed on behalf of several North Carolina physicians and medical practices by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the firm of O’Melveny & Myers. The measure was later permanently struck down as unconstitutional by a federal district court in January 2014.
The North Carolina mandatory ultrasound law, passed in 2011 by the General Assembly over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue, was one of the most extreme ultrasound laws in the country. While the law would have allowed the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would have still been required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection. The North Carolina law would have applied even if a woman did not want to see the ultrasound, and it made no exception for rape, incest, serious health risks or severe fetal anomalies.
In November 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a similar law from Oklahoma, allowing the ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocking the measure as unconstitutional to stand.