Law Requires Doctors to Display and Narrate Ultrasound Images Over Patients’ Objections

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a legal challenge to block a Kentucky abortion restriction, H.B. 2, that was rushed through the state legislature just days into the new session.  The law requires doctors to display, and narrate in detail, an ultrasound to a woman prior to providing an abortion procedure, even if the woman objects and even if the doctor believes that it will harm the patient.

“Requiring doctors to show every woman an ultrasound image and to describe them to her — even against her will— violates longstanding constitutional principles, including the right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity, and First Amendment freedoms,” said William Sharp, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kentucky.

The law requires that the doctor show and narrate ultrasound images even if the woman averts her eyes or asks the doctor to stop.  According to expert testimony presented in the lawsuit,  the law violates basic principles of medical ethics and of informed consent by compelling doctors to dismiss patient’s objections.

Notably, the law provides no exception for circumstances where the doctor believes the ultrasound will have a traumatic effect on patients, including for women who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest or who face a medical condition or a fetal anomaly.

“The law is an example of political interference operating in its most perverse form,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “A woman deserves to expect high quality compassionate care from her doctor. Instead, this law puts politicians in the exam room — squarely between a woman and her doctor.”

Kentucky’s mandatory ultrasound law is nearly identical to a North Carolina law that was unanimously struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2014.  In holding that law unconstitutional, the court explained that the ultrasound law “interferes with the physician’s right to free speech beyond the extent permissible for reasonable regulation of the medical profession, while simultaneously threatening harm to the patient’s psychological health, and compromising the doctor-patient relationship.”

The law was one of three bills introduced by Kentucky politicians in the just the first week of the state’s legislative session.  Also signed into law was S.B. 5, which bans abortion procedures after 20weeks gestation; legal analysis on that measure is now underway.  In their haste to pass these new abortion restrictions, the legislature took the highly unusual step of making both restrictions effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature.

These new Kentucky laws are just the latest in a torrent of restrictions passed by state legislatures over the last few years.  In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, states have passed 338 restrictions since 2010 (not counting the new Kentucky laws).

Today’s challenge was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky on behalf of the sole licensed outpatient abortion facility in the state, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, three physicians, and their patients. 

More about this case can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/emw-womens-surgical-center-v-beshear.

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