Supreme Court Upholds Kentucky Law Requiring Abortionists to Describe Ultrasound to Woman

Henrietta Strickland
December 9, 2019

The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a challenge to a Kentucky law mandating ultrasound counseling prior to abortion procedures.

"Kentucky argued the law is "simple and straightforward", calling it part of an" informed-consent process".

In Kentucky, doctors must describe the ultrasound in detail while the pregnant woman listens to the fetal heartbeat. The medical staff are required to describe what the images show, including the size of the fetus and any organs or appendages visible. Under the law, doctors faced fines and the possible loss of their medical licenses for discussing guns with patients.

"In that regard, although many find the Kentucky law offensive, it doesn't implicate the same fundamental questions about the continuing scope of the right to choose that the justices identified in Roe as other cases already on the court's docket this term and coming down the pipeline", Vladeck added.

The Kentucky denial comes as the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. is facing multiple challenges in lower courts.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organisation, almost 60 abortion restrictions have been put in place this year. More than 140 measures have been implemented that improve sexual and reproductive health.

The Louisiana case will test the willingness of the court, which includes two conservative justices appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, to uphold laws that lower courts have ruled unconstitutional. The court has shifted to the right after Justice Anthony Kennedy, a decisive vote in favour of abortion rights, retired in 2018 and was replaced by Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh, who has a thin judicial record on the issue.

"Although this case is abortion-related, the plaintiffs' challenge was that the law violated the free speech rights of the doctors, as opposed to the abortion rights of the patients", said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

The law "does not require anyone to follow a set script; rather, the physician or qualified technician who is making the required disclosures can use his or her own words", the state of Kentucky wrote in court briefs.

The court declined to reconsider an appeals court ruling upholding the Kentucky Ultrasound Informed Consent Act after the American Civil Liberties Union brought a case on behalf of the state's only abortion clinic saying the "display and describe" requirement violates physicians' First Amendment rights by forcing them to show their patients images they do not wish to see.

The Kentucky clinic pointed out that a different appeals court had struck down a North Carolina law that was materially identical to the Kentucky law. "The Supreme Court should strike these laws down once and for all".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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