Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina Ultrasound Law 


A federal appeals court has permanently blocked a North Carolina law that would have forced women to undergo an ultrasound and hear a detailed description before being allowed to have an abortion. In their decision, the appeals judges called the law “ideological in intent and in kind” and said it “risks the infliction of psychological harm on the woman who chooses not to receive this information.”

The ultrasound law first passed in 2011 as part of North Carolina’s incredibly strict Women’s Right to Know Act, which mandates that an abortion-seeking person has to jump through every possible logistical hurdle, including a mandatory waiting period and what the state euphemistically dubbed “informed consent,” meaning that a woman is required to sit through a lecture about abortion, including, according to a state website, the “possible adverse psychological effects of abortion.” (There’s absolutely no good data indicating that women who have abortions are more prone to mental health issues than other women.) The law also required a physician to show their patient an ultrasound and describe it in detail, even if the patient asked them to stop.

A federal judge struck down the law in January, calling it a violation of a physician’s constitutional right to free speech and saying it required them to deliver an “ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term.” The state appealed; today’s decision from the appeals court re-affirms that the law is unconstitutional. Local news station WRAL uploaded the full decision; in it, the appeals court judges write that a doctor’s office is not the place to apply “the full weight of the state’s moral condemnation.” They add:

Though the state is plainly free to express such a preference for childbirth to women, it is not the function of informed consent to require a physician to deliver the state’s preference in a setting this fraught with stress and anxiety.
There are few absolutes in the difficult area of professional regulation and professional expression. But there do exist constraints on the permissible interference with the doctor-patient relationship; there are limits on state attempts to compel physicians to deliver its message, especially when that message runs counter to the physician’s professional judgment and the patient’s autonomous decision about what information she wants.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood were all united in their distaste for the bill. They issued a joint statement today celebrating its demise.

“We’re thrilled that the appellate court rejected this unconscionable attempt to intrude on the doctor-patient relationship,” Nancy Northup is quoted as saying, the CRR’s president and CEO. “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.”

Image via Getty

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