An appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling to overturn North Carolina's abortion law. Photo by Khakimullin Aleksandr/Shutterstock
RICHMOND, Va., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- An appeals court on Monday said a North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to show women an ultrasound of their fetus prior to an abortion is unconstitutional.
A panel of three judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling to strike down the law.
The law, passed in 2011, requires pregnant women to have an ultrasound and hear a real-time description from a doctor of what the images show. Women who lack insurance would have to pay for the ultrasound themselves.
The appeals court found that forcing a doctor to give this description even if the pregnant woman didn't want to hear it violated free speech.
"This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind," the ruling read. "The means used by North Carolina extend well beyond those states have customarily employed to effectuate their undeniable interests in ensuring informed consent and in protecting the sanctity of life in all its phases."
"The First Amendment not only protects against prohibitions of speech, but also against regulations that compel speech," the judges wrote. "A regulation compelling speech is by its very nature content-based, because it requires the speaker to change the content of his speech or even to say something where he would otherwise be silent."
The Center for Reproductive Rights applauded the judges' decision.
"Exam rooms are no place for propaganda and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Meanwhile, John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said his organization is "highly disappointed in the Fourth Circuit's opinion and continue to believe that the display and description of the unborn child by the physician through an ultrasound is vital to ensuring truly informed consent."
4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- North Carolina abortion law