Attorney general says North Carolina will appeal abortion ultrasound ruling

cjarvis@newsobserver.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Roy Cooper

— Attorney General Roy Cooper said Friday that the state will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that strikes down the narrated ultrasound provision of an abortion-regulation bill.

“While I oppose laws like this that force the state into women’s medical decisions, the state will appeal this ruling because legitimate constitutional questions remain that should be decided by a higher court,” Cooper said in a statement his office released. “It is the duty of the Office of Attorney General to defend state laws regardless of whether I agree with them.”

Cooper’s decision undercuts criticism from Republican leaders that the Democratic attorney general – who is a likely candidate to run against Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016 – can’t carry out his responsibilities representing the state because he has been a vocal opponent of this law and others enacted by the GOP majority in the legislature.

On Jan. 17, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that doctors could not be forced to describe and display to a patient ultrasound images of the fetus in the final days and hours leading up to an abortion. She said it was government-mandated speech that infringed on First Amendment rights.

That requirement was written into a 2011 state law, called A Woman’s Right to Know, but it has never gone into effect because Eagles put it on hold soon after it was enacted.

Last month, McCrory said he was against appealing Eagles’ recent ruling because it would be expensive. He said he was satisfied that the majority of the law remained intact.

The law requires a 24-hour waiting period between scheduling an abortion and having the procedure. It also requires that patients be given information about the medical risks of abortion, the gestational age of the fetus at the time of the procedure, whether the doctor is insured for abortions and what child-care resources are available, among other requirements.

Six organizations, including Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, challenged the law in a federal lawsuit. On Friday, that organization’s spokeswoman, Paige Johnson, said the plaintiffs are confident they will win in the appellate court.

“This law was never about protecting women and would do nothing to advance a woman’s health or safety,” Johnson said. “Politicians passed this law to interfere in a woman’s deeply personal health decisions.”

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, was glad to learn of Cooper’s decision.

“We’re pleased the attorney general is going to appeal the decision, because Catherine Eagles got it wrong,” Fitzgerald said Friday.

Fitzgerald said her organization wasn’t happy with Cooper’s statement, though.

“It’s not interfering in a woman’s medical decision for the state to require a full description of medical information to give women all the facts and circumstances before undergoing a serious operation like abortion,” she said.

State Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican and key sponsor of the bill, had a similar response.

“I am pleased to know that the state will continue to seek resolution on this important issue,” Samuelson said in an email. “Women deserve to have as much information as possible before undergoing this sensitive medical procedure.”

House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Cornelius, said he is satisfied with the decision. He said the law is similar to those in other states that federal courts have upheld.

“We are still confident the state will prevail on the merits of the case through the appeals process,” Tillis said in an email.

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

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