Health Care Providers File Lawsuit to Challenge Demeaning and Intrusive North Carolina Ultrasound Law

September 29, 2011 12:00 am

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union, the 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 today challenging the constitutionality of a new North Carolina law that requires abortion providers to show women an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before having an abortion, even if the woman objects. The lawsuit, filed in the federal district court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges that the new law violates the rights of health care providers and women seeking abortions.

“Politicians have no business forcing health care providers to push a political agenda on their patients,” said Bebe Anderson, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Two courts in Oklahoma and Texas have already blocked enforcement of these kinds of ultrasound requirements because they radically intrude on women’s private lives and violate basic constitutional rights.”

The new law, which the North Carolina General Assembly passed in July over the veto of Governor Bev Perdue, requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight. The provider is then required to describe the embryo or fetus in detail and to offer the woman the opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone.” While the statute allows the woman to avert her eyes and to “refuse to listen,” the provider must still place the images in front of her and describe them in detail. The bill makes no exceptions for women in any circumstances.

“This law forces a doctor, while performing an ultrasound, to describe the embryo or fetus and put pictures in front of the woman’s face even if the woman says she doesn’t want to see them,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “Imagine the pain this causes a woman who is forced to end a wanted pregnancy because of a catastrophic health emergency – or the additional trauma this unnecessary requirement will cause victims of rape or incest. No doctor should be forced to put a patient through that unnecessary trauma.”

The organizations involved in bringing this legal challenge on behalf of several North Carolina physicians are the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the new law is unconstitutional and to issue an injunction that would prevent it from being enforced.

“We believe – and work hard to ensure – that every woman has the information she needs to make the best decision for her and her circumstances,” said Melissa Reed, Vice President for Public Policy of Planned Parenthood Health Systems. “But doctors shouldn’t be forced to subject their patients to information that they don’t want or need for the purpose of trying to shame them. This law violates the most basic principles of medical ethics.”

A copy of the complaint and relevant legal papers can be found online at:

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