A sound ruling against NC's abortion ultrasound law

January 26, 2014 

It was, from the beginning, all about right-wing ideology and not at all about women’s health, as proponents of the law designed to limit abortion rights had claimed.

The legislation pushed by Republicans in the General Assembly was an infringement on the doctor-patient relationship. Lawmakers, many of them “small government” types who screamed against “Obamacare” as government interference, wanted to take the state right into the examining room to stand over a doctor’s shoulder.

The law required physicians who were going to perform abortions to show women ultrasound images and describe them in detail before the procedure. How lawmakers could be so presumptuous, to actually make law designed to codify their ideology, was no mystery. Republicans wanted to show everybody they were in charge in Raleigh and could do whatever they wanted.

So they did.

In the process, they set up the state for predictable challenges to a law that raises serious questions about infringement of free speech. That infringement is what U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles was talking about in a ruling that said that law was “an impermissible attempt to compel these providers to deliver the state’s message in favor of childbirth and against abortion.” Now state Attorney General Roy Cooper will have to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who broke a campaign promise not to support further restrictions on women’s rights with regard to abortion, said over the weekend that he doesn’t support an appeal of the ultrasound provision. He said the rest of the 2011 law still provides important information to patients. Legislative leaders, however, appear intent on appealing to keep the narrated ultrasound requirement.

In Oklahoma, hardly a liberal bastion, the state Supreme Court declared an ultrasound law unconstitutional. The same court also said a law banning all drug-induced abortions was illegal. No less than the U.S. Supreme Court let those rulings stand.

The law the N.C. GOP passed was insulting to women with its implication that the state somehow needed to intervene to protect them against their own judgment and their right to make personal decisions for themselves.

Many physicians also opposed the law, understanding that it represented a high-handed attempt on the part of those same lawmakers to tell them, in effect, how to practice medicine.

What would be next? Directions on stitching up a wreck victim? Specific instructions on the proper procedure for removing an appendix? Requiring a Republican observer in examining rooms to make sure the doctor didn’t hand out any advice on birth control?

Advocates of the law say there is no harm in giving a woman more information before she undergoes an abortion. But that argument ignores the deep consideration most women give the decision to end a pregancy.

It is an agonizing decision that requires careful introspection and discussion with a physician, perhaps with family or ministers or close friends who serve as counselors. No woman makes the choice lightly.

But the choice belongs to the woman and to no one else, and that woman has a right to make the choice without interference from politicians using the issue as a political wedge.

That Republican lawmakers, soon after taking power in the legislature, flexed their power on this issue is reprehensible. And it quite likely will be proved illegal.

It represents legislators who think they can make whatever laws they like without being questioned, showing a lack of respect for the beliefs of their constituents – and for the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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