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By Craig Jarvis, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) (TNS)

RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal appeals court on Monday ruled North Carolina’s requirement that women seeking abortions be shown ultrasound images of the fetus is unconstitutional.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia was written by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The ruling strongly described the requirement as forced government speech.

“Transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes,” Wilkinson wrote.

The judge said North Carolina’s law was almost unprecedented in its inference with doctors’ free speech, while threatening to harm women’s psychological health.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed the law in 2011, including a provision that required women be shown an ultrasound image at least four hours before an abortion, and that a medical provider describe the image to them. That requirement has never gone into effect, because it was immediately challenged in a lawsuit filed by several doctors and abortion clinic owners.

“We’re thrilled that the appellate court rejected this unconscionable attempt to intrude on the doctor-patient relationship,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Exam rooms are no place for propaganda and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women.”

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, issued this statement:

“Abortion is a life-altering decision for a woman and a life-ending decision for her unborn child. The truth is that more than 70 percent of women change their minds about abortion once they see their child on an ultrasound screen. The abortion industry wants to keep women from receiving this scientific information, so they can keep lying to women about the fact that abortion kills their unborn child. The 4th Circuit’s decision has placed profit above truth and science.”

Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr. and Judge Allyson K. Duncan were also on the panel.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled in January that the provision of the “Women’s Right To Know Act” was overly broad and a violation of free speech.

Photo: Mr T in DC via Flickr

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