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Appeals court in Va. reviewing NC abortion law

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — North Carolina’s solicitor general on Wednesday urged a federal appeals court to revive a state law that would require abortion providers to show and describe an ultrasound of the fetus to the pregnant woman, even if the patient refuses to look or listen.

John Maddrey told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the provision adds “relevant, truthful, real-time information” to North Carolina’s informed consent law. The state is appealing U.S. District Judge Catharine Eagles’ ruling in January that the mandate violates abortion providers’ free-speech rights.

“There’s no First Amendment right to practice medicine,” Maddrey said.

He added that the state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that a woman’s decision “is mature and informed.”

Julie Rikelman, an attorney for health care providers who challenged the provision, said there is nothing wrong with offering the information. But she said forcing doctors to follow the script, even if they don’t think it’s necessary or their patient doesn’t want to hear it, is “uniquely coercive.”

The appeals court typically rules several weeks after hearing arguments.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III questioned whether it is appropriate to force the information on a partially unclothed, and perhaps resistant, woman on an operating table shortly before the scheduled procedure.

“That’s not how these conversations ordinarily take place,” said Wilkinson, noting that doctors and patients normally sit face-to-face in an office to discuss the risks of a medical procedure.

Rikelman said the provision “compels ideological speech” reflecting the state’s disapproval of the woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Judge Allyson Duncan asked why it’s not appropriate for the state to indicate its concern when a life is involved. Rikelman said the state can communicate its message but can’t require a doctor to do it.

“This law intrudes on far more speech than is necessary,” she said.

The General Assembly overrode a gubernatorial veto to approve the law in 2011. Abortion providers would be required to place an ultrasound image next to the patient, explain its features and offer a chance to listen to the heartbeat.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he opposed the law but had a duty to defend it.

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