U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles granted in part a preliminary injunction today that will block enforcement of intrusive measures in the new North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to show women an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before having an abortion, even if the woman objects.
Civil liberties advocates, including the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the Middle District of North Carolina on September 29 challenging the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it violates the rights of health care providers and women seeking abortion care.
“We are extremely pleased that the court has blocked this clear attack on the fundamental rights of health care providers providing abortions in North Carolina,” said Bebe Anderson, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The part of the law that the court blocked not only forces doctors to go against their medical judgment to deliver an ideological message to their patients, but also forces women to lie down and just take it. It’s hard to imagine a more extreme example of government intrusion into the private matters of individual citizens.”
After hearing arguments from both sides on October 17, Judge Eagles issued her order to ensure that key provisions of the law would not go into effect as scheduled on October 26 during ongoing litigation of the underlying constitutional questions. In granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Eagles concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their First Amendment claims that key provisions of the law violate doctors’ free speech rights and that allowing the law to go into effect would inflict irreparable harm on health care providers.
“If the ultrasound requirements were put into effect, this law would place doctors in a murky legal situation and inflict unnecessary harm on women,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “The state should not be using women’s bodies as political pawns, as this law clearly seeks to do. We look forward to continuing our arguments and hope that the court sides with the rights of women and their doctors over the ideological agenda of lawmakers.”
The new law, which the North Carolina General Assembly passed in July over the veto of Governor Bev Perdue, would require abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight. The provider would then be required to describe the embryo or fetus in detail and to offer the woman the opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone.” While the law would allow the woman to avert her eyes and to “refuse to hear,” the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail. The measure would make no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest, or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy.
“The bottom line is, this law would prevent licensed health care providers from providing patients with the highest quality and most compassionate health care based on their individual needs,” said Melissa Reed, Vice President for Public Policy at Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc., one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Today the court stood on the side of women and health care providers who are faced with personal, private and very complicated medical decisions every day.”