A new law tightening abortion requirements in the state went into effect Wednesday, but the debate continues in court over whether it is constitutional.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles issued a preliminary injunction blocking the most controversial part of the Woman’s Right to Know law, which would require doctors to show and describe a woman’s ultrasound to her before she can get an abortion.
The provision likely violates the First Amendment by interfering with freedom of speech in doctor-patient relationships, according to the court opinion.
“The state compels the provider to physically speak and show the state’s non-medical message to patients unwilling to hear or see,” Eagles said in the opinion.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, two groups suing the state over the law, said Tuesday’s injunction was a victory, albeit temporary.
“It takes away some of the punitive measures that were really about guilting women for having an abortion,” said Paige Johnson, the spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood North Carolina.
Other provisions did go into effect, including a 24-hour wait period before a woman can obtain an abortion, which critics say is a hurdle to women in rural areas.
The state is working to present more evidence for the legislation in another hearing Dec. 5.
While supporters of the law are glad to have most provisions passed, the ultrasound was “the big thing” that would change abortion practices, said N.C. Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, before the injunction was filed.
Jackie Bonk, the director of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh’s Pro-Life office, said women often don’t see the ultrasound images and regret undergoing the procedure afterwards.
“It’s true that when she sees that image, a woman might change her mind about an abortion,” she said. “To provide that information before the decision is very pro-woman.”
But ultrasounds are already required by state law. The new provision would require doctors to put the ultrasound in a woman’s line of vision and describe what is happening on the screen.
It provides no exceptions for victims of trauma and abuse, though a woman can avert her eyes and choose not to listen.
“It’s not about the ultrasound, and, quite frankly, it’s not about the waiting period,” said Katy Parker, the legal director for ACLU-North Carolina. “It’s about politicians forcing doctors to give an ideological message even if it’s against their medical judgment.”
Other states have had cases similar to North Carolina’s, such as Texas and Oklahoma, where injunctions have temporarily blocked legislation.
But Eagles said North Carolina’s law went “well beyond” what past cases have allowed.
The law was passed by the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly in July after Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the bill, saying it invaded a woman’s privacy and doctor relationship.
ACLU, Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights groups filed their suit against the state in September.
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