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North Carolina Abortion Law Intrudes on Doctor-Patient Relationship

JURIST Guest Columnist Melissa Reed, Vice President for Public Policy at Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc., says that the recently blocked provisions of a North Carolina abortion law violated First Amendment rights and were a demeaning invasion into the relationship between women and their doctors...

Two weeks ago, the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of some of the most intrusive measures in the new North Carolina abortion law. These provisions would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and then show and describe the images in detail at least four hours before performing an abortion, even if the woman objects. The court ruled that these requirements were likely to violate the providers' First Amendment rights by compelling them to deliver government speech that is not narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.

Planned Parenthood is extremely pleased with the ruling. The court stood on the side of women and health care providers. Planned Parenthood joined as a plaintiff in this suit in support of our doctors and staff, and more importantly, the women we care for every day. We trust women to make health care decisions without politicians intervening in those most personal matters. Sadly, the drafters of the "Woman's Right to Know Act" disagree. They believe that women need politicians, not doctors, directing their medical care. They crafted a law that is an egregious intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship. In fact, this law puts politicians and their extremist ideology right into the exam room.

Planned Parenthood's top concern is providing patients the highest quality care. Physicians who provide abortion care at Planned Parenthood and other health centers across the state provide compassionate, individualized care that includes meaningful informed consent. This law prevents licensed health care providers from providing the highest quality and most compassionate health care based on the individual needs of patients, including those who are the victims of rape and incest, or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy. Without the court's injunction, a woman facing the loss of a much-wanted pregnancy would have been forced to have ultrasound images placed in front of her and described to her. Her only recourse would have been to "avert[] her eyes" and to "refus[e] to hear," perhaps by covering her ears and humming a tune. Then, after this demeaning experience, she would still have been forced to wait another four hours prior to the procedure.

As the district court recognized, this law "goes well beyond requiring the disclosure of those items traditionally a part of the informed consent process ... In this case, the state compels the provider to physically speak and show the state's non-medical message to patients unwilling to hear or see."

This law is not about improving women's health care. The district court explained that "the undisputed evidence offered by the Plaintiffs establishes that these provisions are likely to harm the psychological health of the very group the state purports to protect." Women and their doctors are faced with difficult pregnancy decisions every day. Every woman should be able to trust that her doctor can provide her with the most appropriate care based on her individual needs.

We will continue to fight this mean-spirited, dangerous and unconstitutional law and hope that the courts will agree and protect women from this demeaning intrusion on the personal, private relationship between women and their doctors.

Melissa Reed is the Vice President for Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc., where she oversees public policy, legislation and electoral work on reproductive health in North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia. She joined the staff in 2008 after serving the previous four years as the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. In 2009, Governor Bev Perdue appointed her to the North Carolina Council for Women.

Suggested citation: Melissa Reed, North Carolina Abortion Law Intrudes on Doctor-Patient Relationship, JURIST - Hotline, Nov. 6, 2011, http://jurist.org/hotline/2011/11/melissa-reed-abortion-injunction.php.

This article was prepared for publication by Stephen Krug, an assistant editor for JURIST's professional commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to him at professionalcommentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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