Kentucky had a productive at bat this week when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the state’s 2017 law that required doctors to perform ultrasounds and show fetal images to patients before abortions. Plaintiffs had argued that practice impinged on freedom of expression, which the Court found so lacking that without comment it didn’t review lower court rulings affirming the law’s constitutionality.
The law directs a doctor, prior to performing an abortion, to perform an ultrasound; display the ultrasound images for the patient; and explain, in the doctor’s own words, what is being depicted by the images. There is no requirement that the patient view the images or listen to the doctor’s description. The doctor also must auscultate the fetal heartbeat but may turn off the volume of the auscultation if the patient so requests.
Louisiana has such a law. R.S. 40:1060.10 lays out similar guidelines, and thus its section dealing with ultrasound imaging and sounding will remain enforceable. A different part of that law which deals with a requirement that any doctor supervising an abortion have admitting privileges at a local hospital will come under Court scrutiny next spring, as a challenge to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ upholding of the law passed in 2014.
The Court should apply the same logic as the Sixth Circuit did for the Kentucky law, which recognized the uncompromising nature of abortion. It deemed maximal information desirable for women who contemplated an abortion, because it cannot be undone and that women must judge for themselves whether they think the act kills an unborn human being.
The same applies to the Louisiana law, in a different way. If the Court has said life should get every break possible, that it is permissible for government to go to great lengths to ensure that a personal decision has every chance to preserve life by conceptualizing the question in terms of a human life at stake, the same careful consideration should apply to the woman involved.
The admitting law does that. It merely extends a longstanding Louisiana requirement that doctors who provide outpatient surgery at surgical centers have admitting privileges at local hospitals (defined as within 30 miles). The requirement stands in to reflect doctor competence in obstetrics/gynecology, which is of paramount concern to protect a woman’s life especially given a Louisiana abortion clinic history full of serious safety and health problems.
Even if a woman who seeks an abortion denies to herself the humanity of the unborn she carries, making preservation of that life impossible, no one’s decision can change that she is a human life worth preserving. If the Court wishes to err on the side of life, allowing the state to maintain conditions that she will subject herself to in taking another life that make carrying out her decision as safe as possible for her is entirely permissible and consistent with the rationale behind enforcing the Kentucky law.
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