For now, North Carolina women not required to hear fetal heartbeat 4 hours before an abortion

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

North Carolina’s new anti-abortion law, the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” goes into effect today minus a controversial provision that requires women to undergo an ultrasound four hours before a scheduled abortion.

On Tuesday a federal judge blocked one part of the law with a preliminary injunction (PDF), saying she needs to hear more arguments before deciding whether forcing a woman to listen to the heartbeat of a fetus she has chosen to abort is unconstitutional, reports the Associated Press.

The law is being challenged by various organizations representing several North Carolina physicians and health-care providers, including the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order (PDF) explaining her ruling, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles wrote:

It is undisputed that the Act compels content-based speech by providers; it requires providers to orally and visually convey specified material about the fetus to their patients. The message is compelled regardless of a patient’s individual circumstances or condition and regardless of the provider’s medical opinion. The message is required even when the provider does not want to deliver the message and even when the patients affirmatively do not wish to see it or hear it. It is further undisputed that this implicates the First Amendment rights of providers such as the Plaintiffs. [...]

The Supreme Court has historically taken a dim view of content-based speech compelled by the government, finding it to violate the First Amendment in the absence of a compelling state interest in a wide variety of circumstances. … Based on the record before it, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the First Amendment challenge. [...]

The judge upheld the remainder of the new law, which requires women to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion.

As The American Independent previously reported, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina this week released a report with findings from a yearlong investigation, revealing that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) in North Carolina sometimes give women misleading or false information about abortion, contraception and pregnancy. The majority of the CPCs NARAL looked at belong to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship (CPCF), which was slated to benefit from the ultrasound in the “Women’s Right to Know Act.” A new law (PDF) passed this summer channels funds to the CPCF through a newly adopted “Choose Life” license plate program and recommends women visit one of these CPCs for a free ultrasound.


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