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Federal judge hears arguments on North Carolina abortion law

A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina [official website] heard arguments Monday on the constitutionality of North Carolina's controversial new abortion law [HB 854 materials]. The lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report], brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] and other human rights groups, contests the provision requiring abortion providers to show women ultrasounds prior to performing the procedure. The measure, known as the "Women's Right to Know Act," would also require a physician to provide information to the woman regarding gestation, the risks of abortion procedures, abortion alternatives and federal medical benefits available. The plaintiffs argued during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing Monday that requiring doctors to subject women to images of the fetus and discuss the dimensions of the fetus and the presence of hands, feet and internal organs, constitute "extreme measures" that transgress constitutional regulations of abortions [AP report] and violate medical ethics. Special Deputy Attorney General Faison Hicks responded that the presentation of these scientific facts is lawful and promotes North Carolina's preference towards child birth within the scope of its recently enacted legislation. The judge, who inquired about a woman's ability to avoid seeing the images or hearing the information being offered by the doctor, has not yet reached a decision on the matter.

The bill became law in July when the North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives [JURIST reports] voted to override a veto by Governor Beverly Perdue [official website]. North Carolina is one of several state legislatures to have acted recently to limit abortion rights. Both Texas and Florida [JURIST reports] have recently passed bills requiring ultrasounds before abortions. In June, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit challenging the Texas law [JURIST report]. In March, South Dakota passed a law requiring a three-day waiting period [JURIST report] before an abortion; the longest waiting period requirement in the country. That law is also facing a court challenge [JURIST report]. Multiple states have acted to ban abortions after 20 weeks, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain, including Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas and Idaho [JURIST reports].

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