(REVISED 6.2.2016) North Carolina passed a law in 2011 that prohibits a woman from obtaining an abortion unless her physician, during the course of an ultrasound procedure and while the woman is on an examination table, places the ultrasound images in her view, reads a state-mandated script about the images even if the woman does not want to see the images or hear the description, and then forces the woman to wait at least four hours before having the abortion.
Requiring physicians to provide state-mandated, ideological information intrudes on the doctor/patient relationship, subverts medical standards for informed consent, and demeans women and treats them as less than fully competent adults. The North Carolina Obstetrical and Gynecological Society opposed this law because “[i]ntrusion into the physician-patient relationship violates the core ethical principles of patient autonomy and informed consent . . . and sets a dangerous precedent where government will be directing physicians on what procedures they should be required to perform on patients.” It went on to warn that this government intrusion wrongly threatens the trust and respect on which physicians base their relationships with patients.
Plaintiff(s): Gretchen S. Stuart, M.D., James R. Dingfelder, M.D., David A. Grimes, M.D., Amy Bryant, M.D., Decker &, Watson, Inc. d/b/a Piedmont Carolina Medical Clinic, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, A Woman’s Choice of Raleigh, Inc., Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc., Takey Crist, M.D., Takey Crist, M.D., P.A. d/b/a Crist Clinic for Women
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Andrew D. Beck, American Civil Liberties Union, Christopher Brook, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Diana O. Salgado, Planned Parenthood Federation of America,. Walter Dellinger and Anton Metlitsky of O’Melveny &, Myers LLP are providing pro bono support.
Summary: The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, challenged the law on behalf of North Carolina physicians and medical practices that provide abortion services, as well as their patients. The Center and its partners argued that this coercive ultrasound 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. The Center also argued that the law harms women by subjecting them to paternalistic “protections” and disrespecting them as decision-makers, and that it serves no medical purpose.
The federal trial court agreed and permanently blocked the ultrasound requirements on January 17, 2014. The court held that this coercive requirement violates physicians’ First Amendment rights because it is an “impermissible attempt to compel these providers to deliver the state’s messages in favor of childbirth and against abortion.”
The State of North Carolina appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard arguments in the case on October 29, 2014. On December 22, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision that the law is unconstitutional.
On March 23, 2015, the State petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. On June 15, the Supreme Court denied the State's petition. On January 25, 2016, the state of North Carolina was ordered to pay over $1 million in attorney's fees and costs. The Fourth Circuit's decision that the law is unconstitutional is now final and the law is permanently blocked.