State Politics

US Supreme Court declines to take up the NC ultrasound law

A crowd shouts "shame shame shame" as law enforcement officers stand outside the Legislative building in Raleigh in a 2013 pro-choice rally. On Monday, June 15, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will not review a ruling that struck down North Carolina’s 2011 abortion ultrasound law, effectively preventing the law from being enacted.
A crowd shouts "shame shame shame" as law enforcement officers stand outside the Legislative building in Raleigh in a 2013 pro-choice rally. On Monday, June 15, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will not review a ruling that struck down North Carolina’s 2011 abortion ultrasound law, effectively preventing the law from being enacted. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A North Carolina law that would have forced doctors performing abortions to do an ultrasound, display the sonogram for the woman and describe it in great detail suffered a final defeat on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

The controversial provisions of a 2011 law never went into effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups challenged the requirement shortly after it was adopted. It was struck down in January 2014 by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in the Middle District of North Carolina as a First Amendment violation.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in December 2014 and the country’s highest court decided Monday not to take up a petition seeking review of that decision.

“North Carolinians should take comfort in knowing that this intrusive and unconstitutional law, which placed the ideological agenda of politicians above a doctor’s ability to provide a patient with the specific care she needs, will never go into effect,” said Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “We’re very glad the courts have recognized that politicians have no business interfering in personal medical decisions that should be left to a woman and her doctor.”

The lower courts ruled that the 2011 law, which was adopted despite a veto by then-Gov. Bev Perdue, requires physicians to deliver politically motivated communications to a patient even over the patient’s objection.

A three-judge Fourth Circuit appeals court panel stated that “transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes.”

The law was preliminarily blocked in October 2011 following a lawsuit filed on behalf of several North Carolina physicians and medical practices by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the firm of O’Melveny & Myers. While the law would have allowed the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would have still been required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection.

Hasan Harnett, the new chairman of the N.C. Republican party, took the opportunity on Monday to use the Supreme Court decision to raise questions about N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat seen as a potential 2016 gubernatorial candidate.

“This case once again raises serious questions of ethical and professional conflicts of interests for Roy Cooper, who is supposed to be our state’s top lawyer,” Harnett said in a statement. “At the same time he says he’s defending North Carolina’s law in court, he was sending campaign fundraising emails criticizing the very laws he’s sworn to defend. North Carolinians deserve an attorney general focused on doing his job and representing the people of North Carolina, not advancing his own political career.”

Democrats highlighted the high court’s decision as more evidence of a GOP-led General Assembly wasting tax dollars to fight challenges to bills declared unconstitutional.

“Legislators cannot force their way into women’s reproductive decisions and this bill is a violation of the First Amendment and government interference at its worst,” said Larry Hall, a Democrat from Durham and the N.C. House minority leader. “Once again, we had to rely on the courts to protect the people of North Carolina because this legislature continues the assault on citizens’ rights.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948;

Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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