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North Carolina Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Coercive Ultrasound Law

Unanimous Decision from Federal Appeals Court Found Law Violates First Amendment, Interferes in Doctor-Patient Relationship


North Carolina has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a state law that would force women to undergo a narrated ultrasound before receiving an abortion—a measure that has been blocked by both a district court and federal appeals court as unconstitutional.

Today’s filing follows the a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in December 2014 affirming that the law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians by forcing them to deliver politically motivated communications to a patient even over the patient’s objection, declaring that “transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes.”

The law was preliminarily blocked in October 2011, and then permanently blocked in January 2014 as unconstitutional by a federal district court, following a lawsuit filed on behalf of several North Carolina physicians and medical practices by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the firm of O’Melveny & Myers. 

“We all want a woman to have the information and support she needs to make the personal medical decisions that are best for her health and well-being—and this cruel law does just the opposite. Politicians are not medical experts, yet politicians have written this law as part of a broader effort to end access to safe, legal abortion,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We are hopeful that the Court will reaffirm that it is unconstitutional for government to interfere in personal medical decisions about abortion that should be left to a woman and her doctor.”

“As the court has recognized, a doctor shouldn’t be forced to humiliate a patient just because some politicians disagree with her decision,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “It’s just mean-spirited for a politician to make a woman who has already decided to have an abortion feel bad because he doesn’t like her decision.”

 “The only purpose for this intrusive and unconstitutional law is to shame and demean women who have made the very personal, private decision to end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the First Amendment and ensure doctors are never forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians.”

The North Carolina mandatory ultrasound law, passed in 2011 by the General Assembly over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue, is one of the most extreme ultrasound laws in the country.  In November 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a similar law from Oklahoma, allowing the ruling to stand from the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocking the measure as unconstitutional.

The North Carolina law applies even if a woman does not want to see the ultrasound, and makes no exception for rape, incest, serious health risks or severe fetal anomalies. While the North Carolina law would allow the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection.


For more than 90 years, the American Civil Liberties Union has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is a global legal advocacy organization that fights to ensure reproductive rights are guaranteed in law as fundamental human rights.


Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 700 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.


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