Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Declaring North Carolina’s Ultrasound Law a ‘Free Speech Violation’

Ultrasound pdRICHMOND, Va. — The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has uphold a lower court ruling that struck down a North Carolina law that required mothers to obtain an ultrasound prior to proceeding with an abortion, stating that the requirement was unconstitutional because it violates the right to free speech.

As previously reported, lawmakers in North Carolina passed the Women’s Right to Know Act in 2011, which required women to obtain an ultrasound prior to an abortion, and that the abortionist describe the child’s features to the mother, as well as offer the opportunity to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Other parts of the law included a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and that the woman be provided alternatives to abortion.

Then-Gov. Beverly Purdue vetoed the legislation after it reached her desk, but was overruled by a majority vote.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America soon filed suit to block the law from going into effect. In January, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck down the law as being unconstitutional, asserting that the regulation was “an impermissible attempt to compel [abortion] providers to deliver the state’s message in favor of childbirth and against abortion.”

Following the decision, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said in a press release that he did not wish to appeal the matter, remarking that continuing the fight would be costly. McCrory also stated that he was satisfied that the majority of the abortion law was upheld, albeit without the ultrasound requirement.

But Attorney General Roy Cooper, who personally opposed the law, soon announced that he would appeal the ruling as he believed it was his responsibility to defend state law regardless of his personal positions.

“While I oppose laws like this that force the state into women’s medical decisions, the state will appeal this ruling because legitimate constitutional questions remain that should be decided by a higher court,” he said. “It is the duty of the Office of Attorney General to defend state laws regardless of whether I agree with them.”

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On Monday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, headquarted in Virginia, upheld Eagles’ opinion, stating that the law violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind,” the panel wrote. “The First Amendment not only protects against prohibitions of speech, but also against regulations that compel speech. A regulation compelling speech is by its very nature content-based, because it requires the speaker to change the content of his speech or even to say something where he would otherwise be silent.”

“Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion,” it continued. “The state freely admits that the purpose … is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions.”

While pro-abortion groups applauded the decision and called the law “propaganda”, pro-life groups in the state expressed disappointment, opining that the real propaganda is being pushed by the abortion industry.

“The abortion industry wants to keep women from receiving this scientific information, so they can keep lying to women about the fact that abortion kills their unborn child,” Tami Fitzgerald, director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, remarked in a statement. “The Fourth Circuit’s decision has placed profit above truth and science.”

The case may now be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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