Federal Court Rules Kentucky Abortion Ultrasound Requirement Is Constitutional

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Grace Carr Reporter
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A federal appeals panel on Thursday ruled to uphold a 2017 Kentucky law requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound and present the resulting image to women terminating their pregnancies.

Under the law, HB2, physicians must show an ultrasound image and play audio of the fetal heartbeat before a woman is allowed to have an abortion. Women are permitted to look away from the ultrasound and ask that the volume of the heartbeat, if present, be turned down. Doctors who violate the law face up to $250,000 in fines and possible suspension or revocation of their medical license.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down on Thursday a previous lower court ruling which found that HB2 presented an undue burden on women seeking abortions and was not constitutional because it violated the rights of physicians providing abortions, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

“We hold that HB 2 provides relevant information,” Judge John Bush wrote in the decision, according to the Journal. “The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient a greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her. This also inherently provides the patient with more knowledge about the effect of an abortion procedure: it shows her what or whom she is consenting to terminate,” Bush wrote in the decision, the Journal reported.

A heartbeat typically becomes detectable between six and nine weeks in pregnancy.

Dissenting Judge Bernice Bouie Donald pushed back on the appeals panel’s final ruling, saying, “HB 2 is a restriction on speech that has no basis in the practice of medicine,” the Journal reported. “I am gravely concerned with the precedent the majority creates today,” she said. “Its decision opens the floodgates to states in this Circuit to manipulate doctor-patient discourse solely for ideological reasons,” she added. (RELATED: Kentucky Bans All ‘Eugenics-Based’ Abortions)

Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin applauded the ruling, calling it “a major, pro-life legal victory.”

Anti-abortion activists participate in the “March for Life,” an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the US, outside (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The appeals panel’s decision comes after a federal judge recently extended a suspension on two state abortion bans, one which prohibits abortions in the presence of a fetal heartbeat and another which bans abortions on the basis of race, sex or disability, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Bevin signed SB9 on March 15, “prohibiting a person from performing an abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat,” according to the legislation. The governor also signed HB5 in March, “prohibit[ing] an abortion if the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion, in whole or in part, because of an unborn child’s sex, race, color, national origin, or disability, except in the case of a medical emergency,” according to the legislation.

Both bills were signed under an “emergency” clause but were temporarily suspended after the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit legal and advocacy organization, sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of both bills.

Kentucky has only one abortion clinic.

Counseling and parental consent for minors are also mandatory before a woman can have an abortion under state law, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

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