Federal Appeals Court Rules North Carolina Law Requiring Pre-Abortion Ultrasounds is Unconstitutional

Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III (photo: Duke Law School, YouTube)

A North Carolina law intended to shame women into not having an abortion has again suffered defeat in federal court, this time before a panel of appellate justices.


The “Woman’s Right to Know” act, which required abortion providers to show ultrasounds to women seeking abortions, was struck down by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in January. Eagles said the law was too broad and compelled doctors “to deliver the state’s message in favor of childbirth and against abortion.”


State officials appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel unanimously upheld Eagles’ decision. The appellate court found the law to be “ideological in intent.”


The statute also constituted a violation of free-speech rights, according to Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan.


“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,” Wilkinson wrote in the opinion (pdf).


Abortion-rights advocates praised the circuit court decision.


“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,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a press release.


Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, accused conservatives of using the law to “shame a woman out of having an abortion, pure and simple.”


“Politics don’t belong in the exam room, and a doctor shouldn’t have to humiliate a woman because some politicians disagree with her decision,” Melling added.


The law included a provision requiring abortion providers to discuss the ultrasound findings with a patient regardless of whether she wanted to hear it or not.


“Even if the patient attempted to avoid that information by closing her eyes and covering her ears, the law stipulated that physicians should continue speaking,” according to ThinkProgress.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

US Appeals Court says NC Abortion Provision Unconstitutional (by Anne Blythe and Craig Jarvis, Charlotte Observer)

Federal Court Unanimously Calls North Carolina Anti-Abortion Law a Violation of the First Amendment (by Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress)

Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Coercive North Carolina Ultrasound Law (Center for Reproductive Rights)

Gretchen Stuart v. Paul Camnitz (Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)

Federal Judge Halts North Carolina Law Requiring Abortion Doctors to Show Ultrasound 4 Hours before Procedure (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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