Effective as of January 1, a new law in North Carolina requires that all doctors performing abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy send ultrasounds to state officials. The law has sparked intense debate in the state.
Supporters of the law say that its purpose is to makes sure that doctors and clinics comply with the state law that bans abortions after 20 weeks, with an exception for medical emergencies.
“Abortion clinics in North Carolina were only getting inspected once every five to six years,” Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition explained. “Inspecting them every year is part of making sure that the abortion industry is abiding by the rules and protects the health of women. The state of North Carolina has made a public policy decision that babies after 20 weeks have rights. They have the right to live.”
Critics say that the law is an attempt to create obstacles to abortion access and to intimidate women and doctors. “The law intends to intimidate women and physicians,” said Clara Schumann, co-chairperson for Students United for Reproductive Justice. “This is just an addition to a slew of deterrent laws in North Carolina that make it very difficult to get access to services and that will just cause unneeded emotional stress.”
The law requires doctors to send an ultrasound and the method used to determine the gestational age to the State Department of Human Services. The ultrasound requirement has been controversial; some critics claim that it violates patient privacy.
“These are private images from a woman’s personal medical file, and it is completely inappropriate to demand that health care providers turn copies over to the state for government examination, no matter what decision a woman makes about her pregnancy,” said Sarah Eldred, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
Olivia James, a Spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said that doctors will comply with the new law without violating Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations. Ultrasounds that are sent will include the clinic’s name, but not that of the patient or physician. Ultrasound images will be destroyed after two years.
The new law also extended the abortion waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.