Doctors in North Carolina are no longer required to display and describe ultrasound images to their patients before proceeding with an abortion procedure, thanks to a federal judge’s ruling on Friday afternoon. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck down those provisions of North Carolina’s forced ultrasound law because they violate free speech rights.
Requiring women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion has become an increasingly popular policy, and is currently in place in 10 states. North Carolina, which first enacted its mandatory ultrasound law in 2011, was one of three states to take it a step further — requiring doctors to show the images to their patients and describe the embryo in detail.
While some women do choose to look at their ultrasound before having an abortion, others would prefer to avoid it. Rather than allowing women to decide how to handle their own medical procedures, however, North Carolina’s forced ultrasound law removed their autonomy from the equation. And according to Eagles, it also forced doctors to deliver an anti-abortion message approved by state lawmakers.
“The Supreme Court has never held that a state has the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state’s ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term, and this Court declines to do so today,” Eagles wrote in her ruling.
Women’s health advocates celebrated the news.
“Today’s ruling marks a major victory for North Carolina women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: it is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, noted in a statement.
“The court’s ruling makes clear that politicians cannot use physicians as mouthpieces for their political agenda, and reaffirms the constitutional right of every woman to decide for herself whether to continue or end a pregnancy,” Nancy Northrup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, added.
Anti-choice activists typically assume that if women simply have the chance to see an image of their fetus, they’ll change their mind about having an abortion and decide to carry their pregnancy to term. But there’s no scientific evidence to back up that claim. In fact, a large study published earlier this month found that the vast majority of women who seek out abortion services have already made up their mind, and viewing an ultrasound doesn’t sway them. Earlier research has also confirmed that nearly 90 percent of women are “highly confident” about their decision to end a pregnancy, and state-imposed barriers don’t change that.
Perhaps more broadly, it’s important to remember that most of the women who have abortions aren’t exactly ignorant about the realities of pregnancy. About 61 percent of them already have at least one child, and they already know what an ultrasound looks like.