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In July 2011 the North Carolina General Assembly passed a controversial abortion law. This legislation was challenged on the basis that it violated the First Amendment. Those bringing the suit were the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of North Carolina physicians and medical practices that provided abortion services, as well as their patients. On January 17, 2014 the federal trial court permanently blocked the ultrasound requirements and the State of North Carolina appealed. On December 22, 2014 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the law was unconstitutional.
In July 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Woman’s Right to Know Act. This law prohibited a woman from obtaining an abortion unless her physician (during the course of an ultrasound procedure and while the woman was on an examination table) placed the ultrasound images in her view. The physician would then be required to read a state-mandated script about the images even if the woman did not want to see the images or hear the description. In addition, the physician would be required to force the woman to wait at least four hours before having the abortion.
The CRR, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America challenged the law on behalf of North Carolina physicians and medical practices that provide abortion services, as well as their patients. The plaintiffs argued that this law violated the First Amendment rights of physicians by forcing them to deliver politically-motivated communications to a patient even over the patient’s objection. The CCR also argued that the law was disrespectful to women and also served no medical purpose. The defendants were: Paul S. Camnitz, MD (in his official capacity as President of the North Carolina Medical Board) as well as his employees, agents, and successors.
On January 17, 2014 the federal trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and held that the ultrasound requirements were inappropriate. The court reasoned that the display of real-time view requirement violated the physicians’ First Amendment right to free speech. Furthermore, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and entered a permanent injunction against the legislation. After this holding the State of North Carolina appealed the case and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard arguments regarding the matter on October 29, 2014.
On December 22, 2014 the Fourth Circuit struck down the law and deemed it unconstitutional. The court stated that professional rights and medical norms should not be dismissed in abortion cases. Additionally, it explained that the state may promote childbirth over abortion through various means but it may not coerce doctors into voicing that message on behalf of the state in the particular manner and setting that was attempted by the Woman’s Right to Know legislation. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s holding that this compelled speech provision violates the First Amendment.
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The decision expands expression since it strikes down a law that infringes on citizens’ First Amendment rights.
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