McCrory says NC shouldn't appeal judge's abortion ultrasound ruling

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2014 

— Gov. Pat McCrory opposes appealing a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the requirement that women seeking abortions be shown a narrated ultrasound just before having the procedure, his office said Saturday.

McCrory thinks appealing the ruling would be expensive and is satisfied that the bulk of the 2011 abortion law was upheld by the judge.

“The heart of the legislation remains intact, and patients will still receive access to important information and ample time needed to make decisions,” McCrory is quoted as saying in the statement his office released. “After extensive review, I do not believe costly and drawn out litigation should be continued concerning only one provision that was not upheld by the court.”

McCrory had not previously commented publicly on the Jan. 17 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles.

He was criticized last year when he signed into law a different abortion-regulation bill. At the time, he said that bill wasn’t a betrayal of his campaign vow that he would not support any new restrictions on abortions. The law requires updated regulations to be written for abortion clinics, which some contend could put a number of clinics out of business.

The ultrasound requirement was in a bill enacted into law before McCrory took office. It required women to be exposed to narrated ultrasound images within four to 72 hours of an abortion. The law also has other requirements, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, and that women be given extensive information about birth, child care and alternatives to abortion.

But it was the ultrasound requirement that was the major and most controversial part of the law, which was hotly debated in the legislature when it was passed and when Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of it was overridden.

By signaling that he doesn’t support an appeal, the governor is able to position himself closer to his campaign promise of no new restrictions. But McCrory’s view doesn’t necessarily determine whether the state will appeal the ruling.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has been defending the law in court, will presumably proceed after talking about it with his clients – in this case, the governor and the Republican leaders of the General Assembly. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has said he supports an appeal. House Speaker Thom Tillis has said he was disappointed in the ruling and could see “the potential” for an appeal.

Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican and key sponsor of the ultrasound bill, said she wants the state to move quickly to appeal.

“I respect a woman’s ability to make the best choice for her medical care when she is given complete and accurate information,” she said in an email Saturday. “The judge’s ruling denies her access to a vital piece of information by removing the provision that the doctor display and describe the ultrasound image.”

Berger and Tillis have the authority, through a law passed last year, to intervene in lawsuits if they don’t think the Democratic attorney general is handling a case to their satisfaction.

Cooper has already been defending the lawsuit, which was brought by abortion providers and national and state organizations promoting abortion rights. But he isn’t required to continue defending it on appeal.

On Saturday, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina praised the announcement.

“We commend the governor and think it’s about time he stood up to the extremists in the legislature and kept his promise to the women of North Carolina not to impose any new restrictions on abortions,” said spokeswoman Paige Johnson.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, had this reaction:

“No appeals court has found similar ultrasound provisions unconstitutional, and we believe the governor should be in favor of an appeal. Thankfully, it’s up to the attorney general to appeal, not the governor, and he has said that he believes the provision is constitutional.”

Eagles ruled that the ultrasound provision of the law amounts to the government compelling doctors to deliver its message, and that was unconstitutional. The ultrasound requirement never took effect because Eagles temporarily blocked it soon after it was enacted.

The state has required ultrasound exams for abortions for two decades, but not until the 2011 law did it require they be narrated in the final days and hours leading up to the operation.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576; Twitter: @CraigJ_NandO

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