Supreme Court Upholds Kentucky Abortion Law That Mandates Ultrasounds

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In a year that has already brought strict proposed abortion bills comes another discouraging blow to the rights of women and non-binary people

Mere months after oppressive abortion legislation in states like Missouri and Alabama was brought forth by conservatives, a similarly unconstitutional law was challenged. However, the results this time were decidedly less desirable — the Supreme Court has rejected an appeal to challenge a Kentucky law requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds and show fetal images to patients before abortions. What’s more, the justices did so with no explanation of their polarizing decision to uphold the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought forth the appeal on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical, Kentucky’s sole abortion clinic. Passed in 2017, the law requires doctors to describe in detail what they see and hear in an ultrasound (specifically the fetal heartbeat).

The law is a vestigial appendage of Gov. Matt Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican, who lost his bid for re-election just last month. In a tragic twist of irony, the ruling came on his final day in office. Not surprisingly, the Republican Party of Kentucky was pleased with the Supreme Court’s response to the appeal, tweeted on Monday, “This is a HUGE win for the pro-life movement!”

In challenging the law, the ACLU argued that the “display and describe” ultrasound protocol violates physicians’ first amendment rights. In court documents, EMW lamented the reality of this mandate. “As a result of this law, while the patient is half-naked on the exam table with her feet in stirrups, usually with an ultrasound probe inside her vagina, the physician has to keep talking to her, showing her images and describing them, even as she tries to close her eyes and cover her ears to avoid the speech,” they said. “A law that requires a physician to keep speaking even though her words do not inform anyone of anything is not an informed consent provision.”

Defenders of the law, like Kentucky’s GOP and anti-abortion groups such as March of Dimes, insist the “display and describe” ultrasound ruling simply exists to help patients make a well-informed decision. But Steve Pitt, general counsel to Gov. Bevin, certainly seemed to indicate an agenda in remarks made to the associated press. “It’s a five-minute procedure that takes place before the abortion to give women who might have a lack of understanding of what’s actually in the womb, that this is a real living human being in there, they might change their mind,” he said.

He neglects to address the other faction of women and non-binary people out there. You know, the ones who fully understand what’s in their womb, the implications of terminating it, and have reasons this aging white man couldn’t possibly grasp. Because in case he needs someone to spell out the nuances, he can’t understand because he isn’t even anatomically capable of birthing a baby. Rather, he’s part of a patriarchal pedagogy that claims humans who don’t have ovaries should be able to make laws and decisions for those who do.

Understandably, the ACLU couldn’t hide their discouragement over this latest development. The year has already proven to be one for radical pushback (think verge of Handmaid’s Tale type abortions bans out of some southern states).

“This law is not only unconstitutional but, as leading medical experts and ethicists explained, deeply unethical. We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court will allow this blatant violation of the First Amendment and fundamental medical ethics to stand,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. Kolbi-Molinas expressed abject disappointment in the fact that the Supreme Court had effectively “rubber-stamped” Kentucky’s interference in the “doctor-patient relationship.”

Not only does it force physicians to violate their own rights, but it also forces them to violate the rights and trust of their patients under the guise of being “informative” and “helpful.” But let’s be clear: It’s little more than an insidious tactic designed to shame women and non-binary people into adhering to a prescribed set of ethics.