January 21, 2014 — A federal judge on Friday ruled that a North Carolina law (HB 854) requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound, describe it to the woman and offer her a chance to hear the fetal heartbeat violates physicians' free-speech rights, Reuters reports (Adams, Reuters, 1/17).
Under the legislation -- which took effect in October 2011 -- an abortion cannot be performed unless a woman receives state-specified information about the procedure, an ultrasound and a description of the ultrasound image. The woman does not have to watch the ultrasound screen or listen to the description, but she had to sign a document acknowledging that the description was provided. The document had to be kept on file for at least seven years.
In September 2011, a coalition of five groups -- the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and the Center for Reproductive Rights -- filed a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/30/11).
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles said 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."
Eagles added that the law "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."
She concluded, "This is not allowed under the First Amendment" (Reuters, 1/17).
The state has not said whether it will appeal the ruling, the New York Times reports (Eckholm, New York Times, 1/17).
Other Ultrasound Laws
According to the Guttmacher Institute, seven other states require that abortion providers offer an ultrasound prior to abortion. Three states -- Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin -- have requirements similar to those in North Carolina.
Just two months ago, the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a case involving an overturned Oklahoma law that required an ultrasound before a woman could receive an abortion (Dalesio, AP/ABC News, 1/18).