U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles found that a state does not
have "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."
The law "compels a health care provider to act as the state's
courier and to disseminate the state's message discouraging
abortion, in the provider's own voice, in the middle of a medical
procedure, and under circumstances where it would seem the message
is the provider's and not the state's," she added in her 42-page
"This is not allowed under the First Amendment," Eagles ruled.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, but
lawmakers in more conservative states in recent years have enacted
laws that seek to place restrictions on the procedure, especially on
The ultrasound requirement of the law had been blocked by Eagles a
few months after it was passed due to concerns over what she
described as the "non-medical message" doctors were required to
The law required that an ultrasound image be presented and the sound
of the fetal heartbeat be offered at least four hours before an
abortion, though a woman is free to look away and ignore an
explanation and medical description of what is on the screen.
The decision was hailed as a victory for the American Civil
Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned
Parenthood Federation of America which filed a lawsuit challenging
the Women's Right to Know Act.
"Today's ruling protects the rights of women and their doctors from
the ideological agenda of extremist lawmakers," said Jennifer
Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina.
"This law represented an egregious government intrusion into
individuals' private medical decisions, and we are very pleased that
it will not go into effect," she said.
Defenders of the law said it provided crucial information for women
making a major and irrevocable decision.
"North Carolina's ultrasound requirement is no different than
requiring speech for airlines and cigarette manufacturers for safety
reasons," said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to
Life. "The required information must be given even if the person
hearing, seeing or reading the information finds the information
upsetting, unnecessary or repetitive."
[to top of second column]
A Republican state legislator who advocated the law, House Majority
Leader Paul Stam, was not immediately available to comment after
normal business hours.
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, a Democrat and the state's
first female governor, vetoed the measure in 2011 but the state
Senate overrode the veto.
In her veto message, Perdue called the legislation a "dangerous
intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between
women and their doctors."
When the law went into effect in October 2011, North Carolina joined
25 other states that require pre-abortion counseling that goes
beyond basic medical "informed consent," according to the Guttmacher
Institute, a nonprofit sexual health research organization.
It also became the tenth state to include the additional requirement
of an ultrasound, which has drawn legal challenges in several
North Carolina has some of the country's toughest requirements for
clinics performing abortions, including a requirement doctors be
present when abortions are performed.
It also bans publicly funded health insurance programs from paying
for most abortions, and authorizes state health officials to design
rules for increased safety standards for abortion clinics.
In North Carolina, 17 percent of pregnancies end in induced
abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The case is Gretchen S. Stuart, M.D. et al v. Ralph C. Loomis, M.D.
et al: 1:11-CV-804.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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