Supreme Court leaves in place Kentucky abortion law mandating ultrasounds

Doctors must perform ultrasounds and have women listen to fetal heartbeats before performing abortions.
Image: The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington on Nov. 13, 2018.Al Drago / Reuters file

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By David K. Li

The Supreme Court on Monday left in place a Kentucky law, mandating doctors perform ultrasounds and show fetal images to patients before they can perform abortions.

The high court declined, without comment, to hear an appeal brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the state's lone abortion clinic.

The Kentucky law, which requires a doctor to describe an ultrasound in detail while a pregnant woman hears the fetal heartbeat, was passed in 2017.

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It was signed by Gov. Matt Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican who lost his bid for re-election last month.

"This is a HUGE win for the pro-life movement!" the Kentucky GOP tweeted on Monday, thanking Bevin and Republican lawmakers. "This decision by SCOTUS to allow the lower court ruling to stand is a victory for the unborn!"

The ACLU had argued that the Kentucky statute had no medical basis and was designed only to coerce a woman into opting out of having an abortion. Defenders of the law said it represented a straightforward attempt to help patients make a well-informed decision.

The high court's action let stand the law which had been upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement Monday that the high court had "rubber-stamped" Kentucky's interference in the "doctor-patient relationship.”

“By refusing to review the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, the Supreme Court has rubber-stamped extreme political interference in the doctor-patient relationship,” according to Kolbi-Molinas.

“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.”

Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that backs abortion rights, called the Kentucky law a "shaming tactic."

"By upholding a requirement that provides conduct an ultrasound before an abortion, what they’re really doing is establishing that the state can interfere with medical health practice and create a stigma," Nash told NBC News on Monday. "It’s a shaming tactic."

Associated Press and Reuters contributed.