A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a North Carolina state law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound procedure is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment rights [LII backgrounder] of physicians and patients. The lawsuit was brought by several North Carolina physicians and health care providers on behalf of themselves and their patients as a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law passed in 2011. The Woman's Right to Know Act [materials] required women to have an ultrasound administered and explained by a medical professional at least four hours before she would be permitted to undergo an abortion. Also, the law mandated that images of the ultrasound be displayed so the woman could view them and a medical professional must offer the woman the opportunity to hear the fetal heart tone. From the outset, the law was controversial in North Carolina, as former governor Beverly Perdue vetoed the legislation but was subsequently overruled [JURIST reports] by the state legislature. Once the law took effect, an injunction [JURIST report] was issued by US District Judge Catherine Eagles in 2011, and it was she who ultimately declared the law unconstitutional in Friday's ruling. Several rights groups such as Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Reproductive Rights strongly denounced the legislation and claimed Friday's ruling as a victory [ACLU press release] for the rights of physicians and women.
The ongoing reproductive rights controversy [JURIST backgrounder] in the US has impacted state legislatures, federal courts, and the US Supreme Court in recent weeks. On Thursday the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in McCullen v. Coakley [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] over a law creating abortion clinic "buffer zones," establishing a 35-foot protective area that surrounds an abortion clinic where individuals are not permitted to protest. Also last week the Supreme Court declined to rule on an Arizona abortion law banning the procedure after the fetus reaches 20 weeks old, which was overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in May of 2013 [JURIST reports]. Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard arguments [JURIST report] regarding the constitutionality of an abortion law passed in Texas last July, which could result in the closing of many of the state's abortion clinics. Regarding the specific issue of ultrasounds before abortions, the US Supreme Court declined [JURIST report] to hear a case surrounding Oklahoma's version of the law two months ago, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma in 2012.