Federal Court Permanently Strikes Down Coercive North Carolina Ultrasound Law as Unconstitutional

Judge finds state law forcing narrated ultrasounds on women seeking abortion violates constitutional rights of women and their health care providers

(PRESS RELEASE) A federal court today permanently blocked a 2011 North Carolina law that would have forced women to undergo a narrated ultrasound before being allowed to end a pregnancy, stating that the measure “compels a health care provider to act as the state’s courier and to disseminate the state’s message discouraging abortion, in the provider’s own voice, in the middle of a medical procedure, and under circumstances where it would seem the message is the provider’s and not the state’s.  This is not allowed under the First Amendment.”

The law—which required abortion providers to display the ultrasound and describe the images in detail to every woman before performing an abortion, even if the woman objects—has been preliminarily blocked since October 2011 following a lawsuit filed 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 on behalf of several North Carolina physicians.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

Today’s decision represents a robust affirmation of the First Amendment rights of physicians, making clear that politicians cannot use physicians as mouthpieces for their political agenda and interfere with patients’ personal decision making.”

“Politicians don’t know better than doctors how to practice medicine, and they don’t know better than women how to navigate the often complicated personal circumstances surrounding a pregnancy.

“That has not stopped politicians in North Carolina from interfering with the medical judgment of doctors and the personal decision making of women, and it is a shame we have to rely on the courts to do so instead.

“The court’s ruling makes clear that politicians cannot use physicians as mouthpieces for their political agenda, and reaffirms the constitutional right of every woman to decide for herself whether to continue or end a pregnancy.

The North Carolina mandatory ultrasound law, which the General Assembly passed in 2011 over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue, is one of the most extreme ultrasound laws in the country.

While the law would allow the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection.   The North Carolina law makes no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including rape or incest, serious health risks, or severe fetal abnormalities.

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.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the recently-introduced federal Women's Health Protection Act—an historic piece of legislation designed to enforce and protect the rights of every woman to obtain a full range of safe and legal reproductive health care and decide for herself whether to continue or end a pregnancy, regardless of where she lives, within the framework of regulations and limits recognized in Roe v. Wade.