N.C. abortion law sparks controversy

Pro-choice groups could file lawsuit over right-to-know legislation

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Planned Parenthood is already fighting the N.C. General Assembly for funding, but it could soon decide to file another lawsuit against the state — this time about the Woman’s Right to Know Act.

The law requires a 24-hour waiting period before receiving an abortion, as well as ultrasound images and other information to be offered to the patient. It has been criticized by a range of pro-choice organizations, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, as an unprecedented step by the state into a woman’s privacy.

“The Republicans’ social agenda has, with this bill, invaded a woman’s life as never before – by marching straight into her doctor’s office and dictating the medical advice and treatment she receives,” said Gov. Bev Perdue in a statement after her veto of the bill was overridden.

But N.C. Rep. Paul Stam, R- Wake, the House majority leader, said the law is constitutional and supported by a majority of the state, according to a poll taken by Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank.

“This is not a change in the people; this is a change in the leadership,” he said.

Right-to-know legislation has been upheld in other states, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1992 that restrictions on abortion are constitutional if they don’t place an undue burden on a woman’s right to the procedure.

“This is about giving women all the information so they can make informed decisions,” Stam said.

Opponents to the law say the new requirements make getting an abortion more cumbersome, especially to rural women who would need to go to an abortion provider twice because of the 24-hour rule and to low-income women paying for the ultrasound.

“The cost to the patient would go up, but we’re trying to figure out how to implement this at the lowest possible cost to our patients and still be as accessible as possible,” said Janet Colm, the chief executive officer at Planned Parenthood Central North Carolina.

If there is enough evidence that the law causes such difficulty, especially delays in care — abortions are safer the earlier they are performed — the court could side against the state, said Maya Manian, a women’s issues law professor at the University of San Francisco.

But the undue burden is not the only thing calling its constitutionality into question, said Katy Parker, the legal director for ACLU-North Carolina.

Neither Planned Parenthood nor the ACLU has decided to pursue legal action yet, but both are investigating, and the organizations could work together if the issue goes to court.

Parker said the legislation might also violate the First Amendment, infringing on doctors’ and patients’ rights to free speech with its information requirements.

And Manian said gender equality has become an issue with similar cases.

“Normally, we treat adults as capable of making these decisions in medical care, but these laws treat women like children,” she said. “These women’s right-to-know laws should be called women-know-nothing laws because that’s the implication they’re making.”

UNC senior Shabnam Emdadi said she thinks the law is unnecessary and condescending.

“It’s paternalistic, trying to guide you in some supposed right direction,” she said.

Planned Parenthood is already in the midst of a court battle with the state for funding. North Carolina’s budget banned all funding, state and federal, from going to the organization, saying the state has a right to show its preference for childbirth over abortion.

Planned Parenthood sued to overturn the ban, and they received a temporary injunction to unfreeze the funding on Friday. The case to permanently overturn the ban is ongoing.

“This will allow us to keep our doors in Durham open while we fight the ban,” Colm said of the injunction.

No federal or state funding pays for abortions, so the money funds prevention programs and health services in Durham, she said.

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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