‘Right to Know Act’ faces lawsuit from rights groups

A recent North Carolina law—the Women’s Right to Know Act—now faces a lawsuit challenging its legality.

The law is scheduled to take effect Oct. 26 and will require that women seeking an abortion attend a special counseling session, be shown an ultrasound of the fetus, and wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Sept. 29 on the grounds that the legislation violates constitutional rights and medical ethics. The hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 17 at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, and prosecutors have requested a temporary restraining order of the abortion law until the case is decided, said Katy Parker, legal director of the North Carolina chapter of ACLU.

“The theory is that the law compels speech,” Parker said. “ It’s compelling the doctor to speak in a way that goes beyond informed consent, and it’s compelling the woman to use her body as a billboard for the state’s ideological message. Essentially, it’s a government intrusion into one of the most private relationships.”

State representatives Patricia McElraft, R-Cateret, Jones, and Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, introduced the bill in early April, and it was approved by the House appropriations committee May 19. The law passed the state House 71-48 June 8. Although Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the law in July, the veto was overridden by the state Senate.

As of Wednesday night, McElraft and Samuelson were not available to comment.

Previously, women seeking abortions in North Carolina were required to undergo an ultrasound and pap smear as well as be exposed to abortion alternatives, medical facts and legal information, said Alison Kiser, field manager at Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.

According to the bill, doctors are now required to expose all patients to the real-time view of the unborn child and “the opportunity to hear the fetal heart tone” prior to the abortion “in order for the woman to make an informed decision.” The only exceptions are in the case of a medical emergency in which an abortion is necessary to avert death or irreversible bodily impairment.

Kiser said she believes that the new law does not offer enough discretion.

“Even if the abortion is out of incest or other tragic cases, there are no exceptions” Kiser said. “It is an egregious and unrestricted law that entails much more than a simple counseling session.”

The intention of the law, however, is not to be insensitive but rather to provide all women equal access to necessary information, said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life, a pro-life organization.

“A woman who has been raped deserves as many facts as the woman who has not been the victim of the rape,” Holt said. “She needs the information for all the same reasons.”

Proponents of the lawsuit argued that the procedure prior to the passage of this bill sufficiently ensured informed consent by women.

“Instead of providing informed consent as it relates to specific procedures, doctors must now provide descriptions of the fetus that may not be medically-applicable at all,” Kiser said. “This pertains to the idea that women don’t put a great deal of thought and deliberate consideration into the decision.”

Supporters of the bill said they believe the legislation will guarantee that each woman receives a more complete idea about the decision of whether or not to proceed with an abortion.

“The mother who is contemplating an abortion must understand the consequences,” Holt said. “It’s better for her to see the unborn child before the abortion than after the abortion when she can’t do anything about it.... We [currently] treat [mothers] as if they can’t handle facts.”

Although some believe exposing patients to this information may be harmful, Holt said she believes that the level of patient-doctor contact under the law is beneficial to women.

“Abortions are usually done in freestanding facilities where people don’t see the doctor until they’re on the table,” Holt said. “If anything, [the law] would establish a patient-doctor relationship.”

Students on campus sympathized with the notion that the law is an intrusion on constitutional rights.

“This is an intrusion on the freedom of speech and an intrusion on what the Supreme Court has said is a woman’s guaranteed right to access abortion,” said junior Elena Botella, co-president of Duke Democrats. “Imagine if every time you wanted to eat a hamburger or a hot dog, it would require counseling 24 hours in advance concerning the repercussions of eating meat. We would consider that interventionist or a violation of free speech.”

Botella said she disagreed with Holt’s statement that the law could be beneficial for patient-doctor relations.

“That justification is irrelevant—no one is doing this to facilitate more doctor-patient contact,” Botella said. “That doctor is reading from a script that is available online.”

Senior John Bria, a senior representative on the Duke College Republicans, said he does not see the harm in mandating that doctors provide medical information that he believes should be given anyway.

“I get that it will create an emotional response in some women, and I can see how it can be framed as shaming women out of [an] abortion,” Bria said. “But, I feel as if women should be made aware of what they’re sacrificing by giving up this child.”

Duke Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory was not available for comment.


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