Kentucky’s ultrasound requirement for abortions survived an appeal to the Supreme Court on Monday as the justices declined to take up a challenge to the law.
Kentucky’s law, “The Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” requires abortion doctors to present and describe an ultrasound image of an unborn child to a mother seeking an abortion, along with having to play audio of the baby’s heartbeat. Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who recently lost his bid for re-election, signed the bill into law.
Under the legislation, the mother would have the option of refusing to look at the ultrasound image and requesting that the audio of the baby’s heartbeat be muted.
In April, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, a decision that was then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court’s denial of certiorari on Monday leaves in place the Sixth Circuit’s decision.
Kentucky’s law was supported by the state’s Catholic bishops who praised its intent “to ensure women have access to unbiased and medically sound information about abortion procedures and the unborn child in the womb before making an irreversible decision to have an abortion.”
According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, three states require doctors to show and describe ultrasounds to the mother seeking an abortion; 11 states require the doctor to perform an ultrasound.
Circuit judge John K. Bush wrote the Sixth Circuit’s opinion, stating that Kentucky’s law required disclosure of information that was relevant to the patient and thus did not violate the First Amendment.
“The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description, and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her,” he wrote, adding that “[t]hat this information might persuade a woman to change her mind does not render it suspect under the First Amendment.”
The Supreme Court’s 2018 NIFLA decision found that “informed-consent” laws like Kentucky’s ultrasound law did not merit “heightened First Amendment scrutiny,” the judge wrote. That Court decision said that crisis pregnancy centers would be “likely to succeed” in their First Amendment case against California’s law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to post information about abortions.
As long as laws such as Kentucky’s required doctors to give information that is “truthful, non-misleading, and relevant to an abortion,” they do not violate the doctor’s First Amendment rights, Judge Bush said.