ACLU challeges new N.C. abortion law in court

The American Civil Liberties Union and four other groups sued to challenge a new North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to display and describe ultrasound images of a fetus.

The suit, filed in federal court Thursday, alleges that the statute violates the constitutional rights of women and healthcare providers and intrudes on women’s private lives.

"Politicians have no business forcing healthcare providers to push a political agenda on their patients," Bebe Anderson, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which joined in the suit, said in a statement.

The statute, passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in July over the veto of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, also requires a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.

The suit seeks an injunction to block the law, which is set to take effect Oct. 26.

Legal challenges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Texas and Oklahoma. At least 20 states have passed laws that require ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, and North Carolina is the third state to require a provider to place ultrasound images in a woman’s line of sight and to describe them in detail.

The North Carolina statute also requires providers to offer women an opportunity to listen to the "fetal heart tone." A woman may avert her eyes and refuse to listen, but the bill otherwise makes no exceptions, according to the ACLU.

"The law forces a doctor, while performing an ultrasound, to describe the embryo or fetus and put pictures in front of the woman’s face even if the woman says she doesn’t want to see them," Katy Parker, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from legislative sponsors of the statute.

The lawsuit, which names as defendants the president of the state Medical Board and several state officials, alleges that the Woman’s Right to Know Act is unconstitutional -– specifically, its "display of real-time view requirement" and "informed consent to abortion" provisions.

The ultrasound provision "forces patients to allow their bodies to be treated as the source for government-mandated speech, treats women as less than fully competent adults . . . and chills the exercise of constitutional rights," the lawsuit alleges. 

The requirement that providers give women state-mandated information about abortion within 24 hours of any procedure is "impermissibly vague," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit contends that the statute violates constitutional rights to "due process, free speech, privacy, liberty, bodily integrity and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures."  

Along with the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the plaintiffs are Planned Parenthood Health Systems and Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.

State Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte and a sponsor of the legislation, said in June that the statute is "about respecting women." 

"This bill keeps abortion legal. It keeps abortion safe," Samuelson told reporters when the measure passed. "And, by golly, we know it helps make it more rare. It is still her choice. It makes it her informed choice."

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-- David Zucchino in Durham, N.C.

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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