GREENSBORO — Lawyers will be in federal court on Friday to argue for and against a 2011 North Carolina law that requires physicians to perform an ultrasound four hours before providing an abortion and to place the screen in the woman’s view while describing the images in detail.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will hear arguments in a federal courtroom in Greensboro.
Key provisions of the law have not gone into effect while under challenge by women’s health-care providers and civil-liberties advocates. Eagles issued a preliminary injunction in October 2011.
The law, adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly despite a veto by the governor at the time, Bev Perdue, would allow a woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the health care provider’s description of the images.
But the law does not provide an option for the abortion provider to forgo offering such information if the woman objects.
The provider would also be required to offer the woman the opportunity to hear the “fetal heart tone.”
There are no exceptions provided for women who have been victims of rape; a woman whose doctor determines that the woman would suffer serious, long-lasting health problems if she carried the pregnancy to term; or a woman whose doctor determines that the fetus has severe abnormalities that would cause fetal death or extreme disability.
The ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on Sept. 29, 2011, challenging the law’s constitutionality.
In October, Eagles said those challenging the law had showed they were likely to prove the provision violated their free speech rights for health care providers and issued the injunction. Provisions requiring the presentation of ultrasound to a pregnant woman have been blocked in Texas and Oklahoma and critics of the North Carolina legislation
On Friday, advocates and critics of the law will have a chance to offer their legal arguments to Eagles.
The hearing comes at a time when abortion has moved to the forefront of political debate in North Carolina and elsewhere. Just recently, Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation that critics contend is designed to limit access to abortions. Advocates who agree with the law, which requires abortion providers to meet licensing standards that the vast majority of the state’s providers don’t currently meet, argue that it is intended to enhance safety measures.
Women wearing pink held protests at the General Assembly and outside the executive mansion in Raleigh, blasting McCrory for what they considered to be backpedalling on a campaign promise to not sign any “further restrictions” on abortion into law.