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Elections & Politics

Victory for Women’s Health in North Carolina: Federal Court Permanently Blocks Unconstitutional Mandatory Ultrasound Law

Contact: Planned Parenthood Action Fund Media Office, 212-261-4433

For Immediate Release: 01.17.14

“Today’s ruling is another major victory for women’s health,” says Planned Parenthood Action Fund

New York — Today, a federal court found the state’s mandatory ultrasound law unconstitutional — marking a major victory for women’s health against politicians trying to interfere with a woman’s personal medical decisions. The judge’s ruling permanently enjoins the law and prohibits the state from requiring doctors to deliver ideological information intended to shame and demean a woman seeking a safe and legal abortion.  In ruling in Planned Parenthood’s favor today, the court ruled “the Act requires providers to deliver the state’s message to women who take steps not to hear it and to women who will be harmed by receiving it with no legitimate purpose.”

Statement from Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund:

“Today’s ruling marks a major victory for North Carolina women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country:  it is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions.   This dangerous law would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight — even if she asks not to view it.  The provider would then be required to describe the image in detail — even over the woman’s objection.  It made no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest, or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy.

Over the last three years, we’ve seen a record number of bills introduced, passed, and signed into law that either cut off a woman from access to safe, legal abortion outright, or insert politics directly into doctors’ offices. Planned Parenthood has fought these unconstitutional laws that have nothing to do with protecting women or promoting health care every step of the way — from the state house to the court house. 

“But it is time for leaders who value women’s health and well-being.  This year, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes will be working to change the face of leadership in key states in order to ensure that politicians don’t interfere with women’s access to health care.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:

The North Carolina mandatory ultrasound law, which the General Assembly passed in 2011 over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue, is one of the cruelest such measures ever passed in the country.  It would require abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the ultrasound screen in the woman’s view, even over her objection.

  • While the law would allow the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection. 
  • This law would force women in heartbreaking situations to cover their ears or be forced to listen to state-mandated information that is designed to change a woman’s mind.
  • As the court recognized, the North Carolina law makes no exceptions for women under any circumstances.  This means the law would have applied to: a victim of rape, a woman whose doctor determines that the woman would suffer serious, long-lasting health problems if she carried the pregnancy to term, or a woman whose doctor determines that the fetus has severe abnormalities.
  • The court previously preliminarily enjoined the law back in 2011, preventing it from ever taking effect. 

A similar law was struck down by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court.

In Texas, where a similar law has taken effect, the writer Carolyn Jones explained the torment it caused her:  “What good is a law that adds only pain and difficulty to perhaps the most painful and difficult decision a woman can make? Shouldn’t women have a right to protect themselves from strangers’ opinions on their most personal matters?”

Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and Planned Parenthood Health Systems are represented in the case Stuart v. Huff by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of North Carolina. 

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Planned Parenthood Action Fund is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit membership organization formed as the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Action Fund engages in educational and electoral activity, including voter education, grassroots organizing, and legislative advocacy.