Because the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Kentucky’s pro-life display & describe abortion law, women seeking pregnancy terminations in that state will be required to undergo ultrasounds. On Monday, the nation’s highest court rejected the appeal in EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Meier, meaning the controversial legislation now takes effect.
The law mandates that medical personnel thoroughly describe “the presence of external members and internal organs” visible via ultrasound and also play fetal heartbeat sounds for a pregnant patient. Proponents say that requirement is merely part of “informed consent” before an abortion procedure, while opponents say it invades women’s privacy and violates practitioners’ First Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court’s decision, made without comment, came on the final day in office for Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who signed the legislation and was narrowly defeated in last month’s election.
‘Display & Describe’ Laws Educate Patients, Say Pro-Lifers
In their brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kentucky’s lawyers wrote, “Nothing can better inform a patient of the nature and consequences of an abortion than actually seeing an image of the fetus who will be aborted and receiving a medically accurate description of that image.”
Pro-life groups were encouraged by Monday’s news, saying pregnant women deserve detailed knowledge when considering abortion. “When women have the chance to see the humanity of their child & hear their heartbeat, many reject the violence of abortion,” tweeted Live Action founder Lila Rose. “This is a great win for Kentucky & our nation.”
In June, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Kentucky’s ultrasound law, Judge John K. Bush wrote for the majority that it “requires the disclosure of truthful, non-misleading, and relevant information about an abortion” and doesn’t violate free-speech rights of medical personnel. Bush, a Trump appointee, noted that younger generations in today’s “cyber age…increasingly turn to photos and videos to share information,” so states, too, can use technology to “protect unborn life.”
Meanwhile, dissenting Sixth Circuit Judge Bernice B. Donald, an Obama appointee, wrote that Kentucky had “co-opted physicians’ examining tables, their probing instruments, and their voices in order to espouse a political message, without regard to the health of the patient or the judgment of the physician.”
Is the Supreme Court Leaning Toward State Regulation?
Abortion advocates reacted strongly to Monday’s news, calling Kentucky’s law punitive, invasive, and unethical. “The Supreme Court has rubber-stamped extreme political interference in the doctor-patient relationship,” says ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas.
Abortion proponents also questioned the motives of Appeals Court Judge Bush, noting that he once compared abortion to slavery, opposes gay rights, and led his local Federalist Society chapter.
Legal experts call the Kentucky case more of a free-speech issue than an abortion-rights issue. But some point to Monday’s move as evidence that the Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, could allow states more regulatory power surrounding abortion.