The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday declared as unconstitutional a North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to show a woman an ultrasound and describe the images in detail four hours before she can have an abortion. The decision upholds a lower-court ruling from January and could send the issue to the Supreme Court.
A few years ago, North Carolina's Republican-led legislature passed one of the nation's more outlandish ultrasound laws. By state mandate, any woman wishing to terminate a pregnancy would be required to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound, and abortion providers would be required by law to position the ultrasound image within the patient's line of sight.
Medical professionals would be legally required to describe the details of the ultrasound's image, whether the woman wanted to hear the descriptions or not.
For all the Republican rhetoric about "limited government," and how important it is for government never to get between a patient and a physician, here was an incredible example providing that conservatives, at least in North Carolina, don't take their own principles seriously.
At the time, then-Gov. Bev Perdue (D) vetoed the bill, but the GOP-led legislature overrode the veto in 2011 and made the policy state law.
Earlier this year, a federal court struck down the law as unconstitutional. This morning, as WRAL reported, an appeals court agreed.
Of particular interest to the appellate bench was the fact that North Carolina was mandating speech on private citizens, forcing Americans to say things they didn't want to say through government mandate.
"The First Amendment not only protects against prohibitions of speech, but also against regulations that compel speech," the 4th Circuit concluded. "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."
Jeremy Slevin reported over the summer that Gov. Pat McCrory (R), in the wake of the lower-court ruling, was reluctant to appeal in the ultrasound case, but conservatives in the state legislature -- including state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), who will be sworn in as a U.S. senator next month -- demanded it and the state Attorney General "appealed the ruling over McCrory's objections."
Whether or not the 4th Circuit's ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court is unclear.
* Disclosure: This case was brought by the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in the case or in this report.
* Update: Irin Carmon has more on this, explaining in detail why the ruling is "a major legal victory for abortion rights."