Under the Dome

NC must dip into savings to pay $1 million for losing abortion ultrasound case

UPDATED North Carolina will have to dip into its emergency fund to pay $1 million in attorneys’ fees for losing a federal lawsuit that overturned the 2011 requirement that women seeking abortions be shown narrated ultrasound images before the procedure.

The state Justice Department is asking the Council of State to approve paying the bill with money from the contingency and emergency fund when it meets Tuesday.

After the newly Republican-dominated General Assembly took over in 2011, it passed the Woman’s Right to Know Act requiring patients be shown narrated ultrasound images at least four hours before receiving abortions. A group of abortion providers sued in federal court and the attorney general defended against the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles in 2014 found that provision in the law unconstitutional. The attorney general appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which upheld Eagles’ ruling. The attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year declined to hear the appeal.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs informally demanded almost $1.9 million in attorneys’ fees, which the attorney general rejected. The plaintiffs lowered their demand by almost 40 percent, to a little more than $1 million, but a settlement couldn’t be reached.

In January, Eagles awarded the plaintiffs $1,043,316 in fees and expenses. According to a memo by the attorney general’s office, it would be unlikely to successfully appeal that award. Eagles gave the state 90 days to pay.

The case is an example of a law that Attorney General Roy Cooper defended despite his personal opposition to it. That has become an issue in repeated clashes with the legislature and with Gov. Pat McCrory, whom he is running against in November. Republicans and the governor criticized Cooper this week for not defending the state’s new law precluding discrimination protections for transgender people.

The $1 million will be distributed to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU Reproduction Freedom Project, Planned Parenthood and O’Melveny & Myers.

Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, issued a statement in response.

“This court order sends a message to lawmakers in Raleigh: Not only is it unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions, it's expensive. Over the last three years, we’ve seen a record number of bills introduced, passed, and signed into law that restrict access to safe and legal abortion and insert politics directly into doctors’ offices. North Carolinians will not stand for restrictions that have nothing to do with protecting women or promoting health care."

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. GOP, called it “another serious professional and ethical conflict” for Cooper.

“He raises campaign cash off of Planned Parenthood and is now asking the hardworking North Carolina taxpayers to pay out more than $1 million of state money to them?,” Woodhouse said in an email to Dome. “He should fight them in court and not ask taxpayers to pay out their hardworking money to his campaign boosters.”