Federal judge nixes Kentucky law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasound

A new study suggests that fetuses and embryos develop their nervous system much earlier than previously thought. | Pixabay/Skitterphoto

A federal judge has struck down a Kentucky law that requires pregnant women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound prior to the procedure.

The law, which took effect this year, required doctors to display and describe a patient's ultrasound and play the fetal heartbeat to the mother before performing an abortion. According to Reuters, the measure does not contain exceptions for women who are facing medical complications or those who are victims of rape or incest.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation, arguing that the requirement violates the speech rights of doctors and patients by forcing them to deliver and listen to a government-mandated message.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Hale ruled in favor of the ACLU, saying the state law does indeed violate the First Amendment rights of the physicians.

The judge stated in his ruling that the law "does not advance a substantial governmental interest, is not drawn to achieve the government's interests, and prevents no actual harm."

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has expressed disappointment with the ruling and vowed to file an appeal. His spokeswoman Amanda Stamper stated that the administration is confident in the constitutionality of the law, noting that similar measures have been upheld as constitutional.

Hale noted in his ruling that a similar law in Texas was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but he sided with a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision against a similar legislation in North Carolina.

William Sharp, legal director of the ACLU of Kentucky, hailed the decision as "a vindication of the rights of Kentuckians and their physicians."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of EMW Women's Surgical Center, which is the only remaining abortion provider in the state.

Earlier this year, the state attempted to shut down the clinic because it lacked proper agreements with a hospital and ambulance service. A federal judge blocked the efforts to shut down the facility after the ACLU and a Kentucky law firm sued. The plaintiffs complained that the state is targeting abortion providers for medically unnecessary regulation.

The trial was held earlier this month, but it is not known when District Judge Greg Stivers will render his decision.

Kentucky, which had 17 abortion clinics in 1978, has been actively pursuing efforts to become the only state in the U.S. without an abortion clinic. Besides Kentucky, other states that only have one abortion facility are North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Wyoming and West Virginia.