Appeals Court Says Doctors Can't Be Forced To Describe Sonograms Before Abortions

Dec 22, 2014

A North Carolina law that requires abortion providers to take a woman's sonogram and describe it to her in detail is unconstitutional because it violate's the woman's free speech rights, a U.S. appeals court said on Monday.

Credit Flickr user Etolane

A three-judge panel on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously ruled that the state cannot require physicians to disseminate its message discouraging abortions. The ruling upholds a district judge's decision.

"This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper will appeal the decision, his spokeswoman said in a statement. The appellate court’s decision conflicts with a  decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, upholding a similar Texas law, the spokeswoman said.

The General Assembly passed the law in 20-11, and abortion rights groups almost immediately filed suit. Suzanne Buckley with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina says its purpose was to shame women seeking abortions.

"This is a law that was really about telling doctors how to interact with their patients and making them mouthpieces for politicians," she said on Monday.

Tami Fitzgerald, director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, which supported the 2011 law, saw the it differently, and said it protected women.

"We think that women deserve to know all the facts before they engage in such an important decision such as having an abortion," Fitzgerald said.