WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case surrounding the constitutionality of North Carolina’s ultrasound law, allowing a lower court ruling declaring the regulation a “free speech violation” to stand.
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 2014, 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.”
In December, 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.”
The matter was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined on Monday to take the case. Justice Antonin Scalia was the lone dissenter.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina applauded the decision, stating that “North Carolinians should take comfort in knowing that this intrusive and unconstitutional law, which placed the ideological agenda of politicians above a doctor’s ability to provide a patient with the specific care she needs, will never go into effect.”
But pro-life organizations said that informing a woman about the reality of what she is about to do is not too much to ask for abortionists.
“In any other medical procedure, doctors would have a duty to disclose all of the relevant information, and, yet, a procedure as destructive and life-changing as abortion is held to a lower standard,” Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition told reporters.
“We’re disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided not to review a decision that denies mothers this fully informed consent about human life in the womb and the methods abortionists use to end it,” also commented Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Legal Counsel Steven Aden in a statement. “Contrary to the 4th Circuit’s decision, there is nothing ‘extreme’ about a measure that only seeks to require abortionists to employ technology they are already using for abortions. Abortionists simply don’t want to use it in a way that jeopardizes their profits and shows women the truth.”