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District Judge Enjoins Ultrasound Requirement in North Carolina’s “Woman’s Right to Know Law,” but other life-saving provisions take effect today

by | Oct 27, 2011

Barbara Holt, President, North Carolina Right to Life

By Dave Andrusko

Less than 24 hours before the law was to go into effect,  U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles  issued a preliminary injunction against the “Right to View” provision of North Carolina’s “Woman’s Right to Know” law.

The provision enjoined by Judge Eagles requires that an ultrasound image of the unborn child be displayed at least four hours prior to an abortion so that the mother might view it and that she be given the opportunity to hear the unborn child’s heartbeat.

The remainder of the law took effect today. Left intact, at least for now, are provisions for a booklet containing scientifically accurate information about risks, alternatives and information on the development of the unborn child, compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services, be offered to the mother at least 24 hours prior to an abortion so that she might have the opportunity to read and understand the information.

  “While we are happy that most of the provisions of the Woman’s Right to Know law go into effect  today, it is extremely regrettable that mothers will be unable to see real-time images of their unborn children kicking and moving inside the womb and hear their children’s heartbeat,” said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life.

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a strong supporter of HB 854l, told the McClatchy Newspapers chain that “It is unfortunate that the abortion industry, embodied by the plaintiffs in this case, is so opposed to a woman meeting her child before deciding to terminate her pregnancy.”

The law, passed with bi-partisan support, was enacted in July over Governor Beverly Perdue’s veto.

The heavyweight coalition that challenged the law included the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In her decision Judge Eagles enjoined the “Right to View” provision on First Amendment grounds, holding that this “generally includes the right to refuse to engage in speech compelled by the government.” Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, found the judge’s reasoning unpersuasive.

“There are numerous precedents which impact other aspects of people’s lives where laws require information be provided, and in many cases displayed and orally described,” Balch explained.

“For example, when a person flies on a commercial aircraft, FAA regulations require that the crew give passengers a thorough oral explanation/demonstration of safety features of the plane or show a video that does the same.  Passengers are not merely told that there is safety information on a card in the pocket in front of them.  Even something that may seem very straightforward, like how to operate a seatbelt, is described in detail.  Also, situations that may be unpleasant or even upsetting to passengers are discussed, such as loss of cabin pressure, water landings, fire evacuations and so forth.  This information is shared, not to upset passengers, but to alert them and to equip them with information that could save their lives.” 

Likewise, displaying the ultrasound image and orally describing what the screen depicts “gives mothers another piece they need to make a more informed decision and reduce the chance that she will make a decision based on an incomplete understanding of the full dimensions of her decision, which might later produce terrible remorse,” Balch said. She added, “The first amendment doesn’t protect the abortionist’s right not to give relevant information to his/her patient just because he doesn’t want the patient to know.”

According to reporter Craig Jarvis, Judge Eagles set December 5 as the date for the next hearing in the case.”The hearing would be an opportunity for the state to try to persuade the judge to modify or vacate her preliminary injunction,” Jarvis wrote.

Mrs. Holt said she looked forward to the next phase of the case.

  “We are confident that the Court, upon further review, will ultimately allow the ultrasound provision to take effect giving North Carolina mothers the opportunity to witness their living unborn children in the womb,” she added.

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