Saturday, January 18, 2014
In her opinion in Stuart v. Loomis, United States District Judge Catherine Eagles held the "speech and display" provisions of North Carolina's "The Woman‟s Right to Know Act" unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Recall that Judge Eagles entered a preliminary injunction against the statute's enforcement in October 2011.
The speech and display provision, North Carolina statute §90-21.85, passed by the legislature over the governor's veto, generally provided
that a woman undergo an ultrasound at least four hours before an abortion
that the physician or qualified technician working with the physician display the images produced from the ultrasound “so that the [patient] may view them,”
that the providers give “a simultaneous explanation of what the display is depicting, which shall include the presence, location, and dimensions of the unborn child within the uterus,” and
that the providers give “a medical description of the images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.”
In a nutshell, Judge Eagles ruled:
The Supreme Court has never held that a state has the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state‟s ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term, and this Court declines to do so today. To the extent the Act is an effort by the state to require health care providers to deliver information in support of the state‟s philosophic and social position discouraging abortion and encouraging childbirth, it is content- based, and it is not sufficiently narrowly tailored to survive strict scrutiny. Otherwise, the state has not established that the speech-and-display provision directly advances a substantial state interest in regulating health care, especially when the state does not require the patient to receive the message and the patient takes steps to avoid receipt of the message. Thus, it does not survive heightened scrutiny.
One interesting aspect of Judge Eagles' opinion is her discussion of the Ninth Circuit's 2013 opinion in Pickup v. Brown, holding constitutional California's prohibition of sexual orientation change efforts (also known as sexual conversion or reparative therapy). Judge Eagles uses Pickup's analysis of medical speech, although noting that the court in Pickup ultimately concluded that the therapy in Pickup was conduct rather than speech. Here, North Carolina was "seeking to compel “doctor- patient communications about medical treatment,” in distinction to Pickup.
Judge Eagles also discusses the other claims, including due process and the state's request to sever the statute (which she finds untimely). It's a well-reasoned opinion that should survive if it is appealed.