ACLU Blasts Supreme Court for Upholding Kentucky’s Abortion Ultrasound Law

By Shani Saxon Dec 10, 2019

The United States Supreme Court on Monday (December 9) decided to leave in place a Kentucky regulation requiring doctors to play the fetal heartbeat sound to their patients seeking abortions, CNN reports. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed to the Supreme Court after the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the regulation, which requires those seeking abortions in Kentucky to see ultrasound images and hear the fetal heartbeat, even if it’s against their will. Lawyers argued the rule was a violation of doctors’ First Amendment rights. 

The high court declined to hear the appeal without comment, CNN reports. There were no noted dissents by any of the justices. 

Al Jazeera reports the ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of “EMW Women's Surgical Center, Kentucky's only licensed abortion clinic, as well as physicians who work there shortly after the law was passed in 2017.” 

Per Al Jazeera:


Kentucky requires a physician or qualified technician to perform the ultrasound and position the screen so the woman can view the images of the fetus. The medical staff are required to describe what the images show, including the size of the fetus and any organs or appendages visible. They are also required to make the sound of the fetal heartbeat audible.


The law requires the physicians to continue with the process even if the patient objects and shows signs of distress. Doctors can be fined and referred to the state's medical licensing board if they fail to comply with the Kentucky law.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, lashed out at the Supreme Court over the decision. "By refusing to review the 6th Circuit's ruling, the Supreme Court has rubber-stamped extreme political interference in the doctor-patient relationship," she said in a statement to CNN. "This law is not only unconstitutional, but as leading medical experts and ethicists explained, deeply unethical."

As CNN reports, the 6th Circuit Court held in its ruling:


As a First Amendment matter, there is nothing suspect with a State's requiring a doctor, before performing an abortion, to make truthful, non-misleading factual disclosures, relevant to informed consent, even if those disclosures relate to unborn life and have the effect of persuading the patient not to have an abortion.

Kentucky lawmakers defended the requirement by arguing it’s an “informed-consent process,” according to CNN. They also said that it “does nothing more than require that women who are considering an abortion be provided with information that is truthful, non-misleading and relevant to their decision of whether to have an abortion.” 

CNN Supreme Court analyst Steve Vladeck said this decision by the Supreme Court shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a blow to reproductive rights. 

"Although this case is abortion-related, the plaintiffs' challenge was that the law violated the free speech rights of the doctors, as opposed to the abortion rights of the patients," Vladeck said. "In that regard, although many find the Kentucky law offensive, it doesn't implicate the same fundamental questions about the continuing scope of the right to choose that the justices identified in Roe as other cases already on the court's docket this term and coming down the pipeline.”