(CN) - A North Carolina law requiring medical providers to show ultrasounds to women seeking abortions and then describe the images to them violates the free-speech rights of doctors, a federal judge ruled Friday.
The Woman's Right to Know Act was passed in 2011 to discourage abortions and promote childbirth, according to its proponents.
It requires doctors to perform an ultrasound at least four but no more than 72 hours before an abortion. During the procedure, the medical provider must describe the images on the screen, including the embryo or fetus's limbs, organs and dimensions, and offer the woman the chance to hear the "fetal heart tone."
Though the woman can avert her eyes and refuse to listen, the provision made no exceptions for cases of life-threatening illness, rape or incest.
Several North Carolina doctors and health care providers sued, claiming they should not be required to deliver such information to women who don't wish to receive it or who might be traumatized by it.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles barred the state from enforcing the speech-and-display provision in 2011, and the rest of the law went into effect on Oct. 28 of that year.
After the injunction, several individuals tried - unsuccessfully - to intervene as defendants, and the doctors narrowed their claims. The parties each moved for summary judgment.
Judge Eagles ruled for the medical providers on Friday, saying the state cannot force them to bear its "ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term."
"Because the speech-and-display provision violates plaintiffs' First Amendment rights, enforcement of this provision must be enjoined," she wrote.
Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, called the provision an "egregious government intrusion into individuals' private medical decisions" and said they are "very pleased that it will not go into effect."
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