On Monday, a huge decision was made that carried major implications for women's reproductive health all across the Tar Heel State: North Carolina's abortion ultrasound requirement has been struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, laying the groundwork for a possible Supreme Court case. Passed and signed into law in 2011, the so-called "North Carolina Women's Right to Know Act" is controversial and reviled in progressive circles, for very good reasons.
In simplest terms, the law forces North Carolinian women who're pregnant and want abortions to submit to a mandatory ultrasound, with a screen aimed in their direction, and with their doctor describing in detail what their fetus or embryo looks like. But in its decision Monday, the Fourth Circuit Court ruled the law unconstitutional, determining it to be a form of "compelled speech."
As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon points out, North Carolina’s ultrasound law is deeply draconian and unsparing, with no exception being made even for rape survivors. It’s not, however, some phenomenon limited to just one state. There are 23 states in total that mandate the performance of an ultrasound before a doctor can provide an abortion. What that means, in real terms, is that this ruling could be setting up a legal showdown with implications for women all across America.
In the court's opinion, all of which you can access and read thanks to WRAL, North Carolina's ultrasound law was both particularly harsh, and a violation of the First Amendment.
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.
It hasn't been much of a secret that Republican-led states have been pushing the extent of their anti-abortion policies right up to the edge in recent years. And it's an effort that's been fueled in large part by the GOP's run of dominantly-held state legislatures — in the case of North Carolina's 2011 ultrasound law, then-Democratic Governor Bev Perdue actually vetoed it, but the state's General Assembly was so stacked with Republicans that they were able to override her.
While these ultrasound laws still leave more abortion access for women than the so-called TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers) that have swept through GOP-run states do, they all serve a solitary goal: reducing and eliminating abortion by all means available.
It's why the thought of a major Supreme Court ruling on reproductive rights — a distinct possibility now, with different appeals courts having issued different rulings on these ultrasound laws — creates such an uneasy feeling in the stomachs of so many pro-choice activists, and advocates. The Republican war on choice, as you could call it, is at full strength these days, and it's full-throated. If the Supreme Court were to dispense a ruling that in any way cut against choice, it would almost surely trigger a truly harrowing rollback of women's rights.
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