March 24, 2015 — North Carolina on Monday requested that the Supreme Court consider a federal appeals court's decision to strike down part of a 2011 state law (SL 2011-45) that would require physicians to perform ultrasounds prior to abortions and describe the images to patients, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
The law requires physicians to display and describe the ultrasound images to women seeking abortions, even if the women object. According to the News & Observer, women are permitted to avert their eyes or cover their ears (Jarvis, Raleigh News & Observer, 3/23). The requirement has never taken effect because of ongoing court challenges, although other provisions of the law remain in place.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down the narrated ultrasound requirement. In the 4th Circuit ruling, Judge Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the panel that the provision is an unconstitutional violation of physicians' free-speech rights. Wilkinson wrote, "The state cannot commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient," adding that "this compelled speech provision" violates the First Amendment.
Similarly, in the earlier ruling that struck down the requirement, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles said that it violates physicians' free-speech rights because the state does not have "the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state's ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term" (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/23/14).
The Supreme Court in the past declined to hear a case involving a similar law in Oklahoma that the state's highest court declared unconstitutional, the News & Observer reports.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the plaintiffs in the North Carolina case, said in a statement, "The only purpose for this invasive and unconstitutional law is to shame and demean women who have made the very personal, private decision to end a pregnancy," adding, "We will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the First Amendment and ensure doctors are never forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians" (Raleigh News & Observer, 3/23).