The Supreme Court has declined to rescue a 2011 North Carolina law that would require an abortion-providing doctor to show a patient an ultrasound of the fetus and describe it in detail, including the size of organs and limbs. A federal appeals court already declared that the law was unconstitutional because it violates the doctor’s free speech rights.
In a ruling released this morning, SCOTUS rejected an appeal from North Carolina in a one-sentence order. (The New York Times notes that Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, without saying why.) The law would have made no exceptions for rape, incest, serious health risks to the pregnant person, or severe fetal abnormalities. The state House passed it after overriding the veto of then-governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, who denounced the bill at the time as “a dangerous intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between women and their doctors. The bill contains provisions that are the most extreme in the nation in terms of interfering with that relationship.”
SCOTUS may have agreed, but similar laws in North Dakota and Texas have been upheld by federal appeals courts, which means they never got the chance to be slapped down by the Supremes. According to Guttmacher, doctors are required to show and describe ultrasounds in Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin, but the same requirement was permanently blocked in Oklahoma. In Louisiana and Texas, a pregnant person is generously given the option to decline to listen to the description under certain circumstances. In Wisconsin, a sexual assault victim isn’t required to hear a fetal description. There’s pretty much no way to make a law against a woman turning her head away during the ultrasound, or you can bet someone would’ve mandated that too.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights sent out a joint press release celebrating the SCOTUS ruling. Cecil Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood, called the law ““dangerous and misguided,” and said it “should never have passed in the first place.”
“Politicians across the country should take note,” she added, “these harmful and unconstitutional restrictions won’t be tolerated by the courts or the public.” Except in the states where they are.
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Former North Carolina Bev Perdue pictured in 2012. Perdue vetoed the ultrasound law, but her veto was overridden. Image via AP.