Does the Ultrasound Ruling Mean the Supreme Court Will Uphold Abortion Rights?

Abortion rights supporters have been waiting anxiously this term to see if the Supreme Court will decide to take up the state of Mississippi’s appeal over a lower court’s injunction that is keeping that state’s only abortion clinic open. While decision is still in limbo, the court instead surprised many by refusing to hear a North Carolina appeal over that state’s mandatory ultrasound law and so-called “informed consent” script. Is the court signaling that it may be ready to finally protect some right to an abortion, or is the move just a small bone being tossed to abortion rights advocates before the real dismantling of access begins?

North Carolina was one of the first states to pass a mandatory ultrasound bill that forced doctors to describe in great detail the measurements and development of the embryo or fetus to the person aborting the pregnancy — even if that person says she doesn’t want to hear the information. The bill passed in an override after the governor vetoed it, and was later blocked by a federal court panel that said it was “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.”

As the restriction worked its way through the court several other states passed nearly identical bills. Most notably was Texas, which placed their bill as an “emergency” piece of legislation to rush it through the legislature. Then Texas Governor Rick Perry signed it soon after, and announced his campaign for president about a month after that.

In a landscape with few wins as of late, abortion rights supporters are rightfully embracing the news that the Supreme Court will leave the lower court’s ruling intact as a positive sign that, “Today, even the Conservative-led Supreme Court said that one of these attempts — medically unnecessary ultrasounds which trample the rights of doctors and attempt to shame women—goes too far,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue via press release. “Doctors should make medical decisions, not politicians. These forced ultrasound bills are not based on science or medicine, they a tool used by anti-choice politicians to pursue a political agenda.”

“This dangerous and misguided law should never have passed in the first place. Politicians across the country should take note — these harmful and unconstitutional restrictions won’t be tolerated by the courts or the public,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, also said via statement.

As legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo notes, this is the second time that the Supreme Court has refused to hear a mandatory ultrasound case, making it clear that while there may be massive uncertainty around what constitutes “undue burden” when it comes to restricting access to abortion, the court is at least fairly consistent when it comes to its embrace of free speech. After all, if speech is protected on the outside of clinics when it comes to harassing patients trying to get in the door, it would make no sense to then be able to compel a doctor to recite political propaganda in the exam room against his or her will.

This ruling doesn’t give much of a sneak peek into the overall view of the Roberts court when it comes to upholding or blocking the right to access a safe, legal abortion, though, and it definitely doesn’t prep us for a decision on Mississippi, where the state’s admitting privileges requirement for doctors who perform abortions is currently being blocked so that the only clinic in the state doesn’t close. However, the 5th circuit’s ruling last week that Texas can allow its own admitting privileges rule and ambulatory surgical center requirements — a double punch that will have the state down to just seven or eight clinics by the end of the month — to go into effect may cause the Supreme Court to put Mississippi on hold for a while, too. After all, Texas, Wisconsin and a series of other states are likely to bring that same admitting privileges requirement up to SCOTUS through other circuits within the next year, and corralling them all into one ruling allows the justices to see how all of the restrictions play out.

If I had to make a guess, I would say that the Supreme Court won’t take up any abortion cases this session. When you look at it that way, then yes, the ultrasound ruling is setting the tone for abortion rights this session. And that tone is that the court simply doesn’t want to get involved right now.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

55 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S2 years ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 years ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

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Julie Cannon
Julie Cannon3 years ago

Thanks.

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pam w.
pam w3 years ago

I hope for the day when NOBODY interferes with a woman's decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy. It's HER decision....and must remain so.

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jan b.
jan b3 years ago

Women are key assets for peace and the quest for a decent place to live yet the international plus the USA --community continues to ignore or marginalise them.
In the USA we are only represented 20% in DC ---women are caregivers, veterans and workers ....we have a bloated military and still haven't gotten Universal Healthcare, vet's, FDA, infrastructure funded properly ....and senior benefits are under constant attack along with women's reproductive issues. ENOUGH !!! VOTE MORE WOMEN INTO GOVT. to combat the Taliban republicans who want to push their religious beliefs onto everyone else because women have been a pushover for generations.

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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sandra vito
Sandra V3 years ago

Gracias

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