Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case on Kentucky Law That Requires Doctors to Show Ultrasound Before Abortion

December 9, 2019 Updated: December 9, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a case on a Kentucky law that requires doctors to show and describe ultrasound images to a patient before an abortion.

The high court justices declined on Dec. 9 (pdf) to reconsider an appeals court decision that upholds the state’s abortion law, effectively allowing the law to stand. They didn’t provide any comments or dissents on the decision.

The law, known as House Bill 2, requires a doctor to explain the details of the ultrasound while letting the patient listen to the fetal heartbeat, but also allows a woman to look away from the ultrasound screen and ask the doctor to turn the sounds off. If the doctors don’t comply, they could be fined and referred to the state’s medical licensing board. The law was passed in 2017.

EMW Women’s Surgical Center, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), challenged the law, arguing that it forces doctors to deliver a “government-mandated ideological message” to their patients in violation of their speech rights under the First Amendment, while causing harm to patients, according to their complaint (pdf).

The plaintiffs won in a lower court in 2017 and the law was blocked from going into effect. The state then appealed.

Then in April, judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 (pdf) that the Kentucky law did not violate the First Amendment rights of doctors, saying that there’s nothing suspect about requiring a doctor, before performing an abortion, to give truthful, nonmisleading factual information that’s relevant to the patient’s decision-making process.

In the appeals case, Judge John Bush, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said the information conveyed by an ultrasound image is pertinent to a woman’s decision-making because it provides the patient a greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her.

In the dissent, Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, said that the majority’s “decision opens the floodgates to states in this Circuit” to influence conversations between doctors and patients with ideological messages.

The ACLU then filed a petition (pdf) to the Supreme Court in September asking the top court’s justice to overturn the appeals court’s decision.

ACLU lawyer Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said in a statement to The Associated Press that she thinks the law is unconstitutional and unethical.

The Supreme Court “has rubber-stamped extreme political interference in the doctor-patient relationship,” Kolbi-Molinas said.

Meanwhile, Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, a pro-life nonprofit organization, welcomed the Supreme Court decision.

“Women facing an unexpected pregnancy deserve to have as much medically and technically accurate information as possible when they are making what could be the most important decision of their life,” Mancini said in an email to The Epoch Times.

This case is one of the many that have emerged at a time during a national dialogue about abortion, where the federal government and many states are enacting or defending their enacted laws in court on the topic.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for another abortion-related case, June Medical Services LLC v. Gee (pdf), in March next year. The case hears a challenge to a Louisiana law that requires all doctors who perform or induce an abortion to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

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