North Carolina Can't Force Women To Have Narrated Ultrasounds

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Women in North Carolina are officially safe from a law that would have forced anyone who needed an abortion to get an ultrasound, and would have forced doctors to describe what is found in detail — regardless of whether the woman wanted to hear it. The Supreme Court decided on Monday that it would not consider the state's appeal of a lower court decision that the law violated doctors' First Amendment rights.

The law, which passed in 2011, never went into effect, and an appeals court found it to be unconstitutional in December 2014. While North Carolina officials argued that the law was about "informed-consent," according to Bloomberg Politics, the lower court called it a “virtually unprecedented burden on the right of professional speech” for doctors.

Under the law, if a woman didn't want the information the doctor was being forced to provide, she would have been expected to just avert her eyes and not listen. There were no exceptions, even for victims of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality.

Reproductive rights groups celebrated the court's decision, which is a rare bright spot of good news after years of creeping restrictions, and attempts to curtail access to reproductive health services. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement, “This misguided law would have inserted politics and bad medicine into every exam room in North Carolina. We are pleased that the courts are recognizing that these unconstitutional laws hurt women and block access to safe medical care.”

State legislators have passed 267 measures to restrict abortion since 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Many of them, including others now in effect in North Carolina, force doctors to lie to patients or give them medically suspect information designed to discourage them from terminating a pregnancy. “The purpose of this law was crystal clear: to shame a woman who has decided to have an abortion out of getting one. In this country, it's not ok to turn doctors into the mouthpieces of politicians in order to make a woman feel bad about her decision,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to take a case that could reshape abortion rights for millions of women. There are two other cases that it could also decide to hear: a challenge to a Mississippi law that would close the state's only abortion clinic, and a challenge to a Texas law that would leave less than ten clinics to serve the state of nearly 27 million people.
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