Supreme Court Declines to Review Decision Striking Down Coercive Ultrasound Law

Law would have forced a woman to “avert her eyes”

June 15, 2015 11:15 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to review a decision striking down a North Carolina law that would have forced a woman to undergo a narrated ultrasound before receiving an abortion—a measure that was blocked by both a district court and federal appeals court as unconstitutional.

Following a challenge by the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said of the North Carolina law that “transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes.”

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court decided not to review the decision striking down this law. Doctors shouldn’t be forced to humiliate a woman and disregard their best medical judgment in order to provide an abortion,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “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, its not ok to turn doctors into the mouthpieces of politicians in order to make a woman feel bad about her decision.”

“Laws that force physicians to subject patients to non-medically indicated ultrasounds – and to display and describe those ultrasounds – run counter to best medical practices and are simply wrong. Moreover, this law violates the principle of appropriate informed consent,” said Mark S. DeFrancesco, MD, President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Women in need of abortion care should be treated in a compassionate, medically appropriate way – not with cold-hearted approaches intended to interfere with the patient-physician relationship.”

“This dangerous and misguided law should never have passed in the first place. Politicians across the country should take note — these harmful and unconstitutional restrictions won’t be tolerated by the courts or the public,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “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.”

“The Supreme Court has left standing major victories in the lower courts that will keep politicians out of the exam room and the personal decisions of North Carolina women seeking to safely and legally end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Women are fully capable of making thoughtful decisions about their families, future, and health without interference from politicians who presume to know better. And all doctors must be free to give patients their best medical judgment, free from talking points dictated by lawmakers advancing an agenda.”

The North Carolina mandatory ultrasound law, passed in 2011 by the General Assembly over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue, is one of the most extreme ultrasound laws in the country.

While the law would have allowed the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection. The North Carolina law applies even if a woman does not want to see the ultrasound, and makes no exception for rape, incest, serious health risks or severe fetal anomalies.

This law is one of hundreds of abortion restrictions that have been introduced by state legislatures with the goal of restricting access to abortion. In the past four years, state lawmakers enacted more than 230 abortion restrictions, and in the first quarter of 2015 alone, more than 330 abortion restrictions were introduced.

New polling shows that most Americans identify as pro-choice and that seven in 10 Americans want a woman who has decided to have an abortion to be able to get it without additional burdens.

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The latest in Reproductive Freedom

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Reproductive Freedom

Reproductive Freedom issue image

The ACLU works to ensure that every person can make the best decision for themselves and their family about whether and when to have a child without undue political interference.