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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Kentucky law requiring doctors to show patients an ultrasound and play audio of the fetal heartbeat before the patient can obtain abortion care. (Photo: ProgressOhio/Flickr/cc)

Supreme Court Won't Hear Appeal of Kentucky's Forced Ultrasound Law, Allowing Law Intended to 'Shame' Patients Stand

"The goal is to shame and intimidate people ending pregnancies. It's scary when laws are used for that and scarier that the Supreme Court let it stand."

Julia Conley

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday chose not to hear an appeal on a Kentucky law reproductive rights groups say is intended only to "shame and intimidate" patients, effectively upholding the statute.

The justices did not offer a comment on their reasoning for declining to hear the ACLU's arguments against H.B. 2, which requires doctors at the state's only remaining clinic that provides abortions to perform an ultrasound before giving a patient abortion care. 

"Healthcare should be free from shame, stigma, and medically unnecessary mandates."
—Physicians for Reproductive Health
Under the law, doctors are required to describe the ultrasound images to the patient in detail while audio of the fetal heartbeat plays, leading the ACLU to describe H.B. 2 as a "forced narrated ultrasound law."

The ACLU said Monday that the Supreme Court "has rubber-stamped extreme political interference in the doctor-patient relationship."

"We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court will allow this blatant violation of the First Amendment and fundamental medical ethics to stand," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement.

H.B. 2 was previously upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and that ruling will now stand unless it is challenged again.

Dr. Ashlee Bergin, a physician at EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, wrote in September that the law forces her to "harm and humiliate" her patients, describing ultrasound images to them "even when the patient shuts her eyes and covers her ears":

Take a moment to imagine what this must be like. To tell your doctor, "thank you, but I don't want to hear you describe the ultrasound," and to have your doctor tell you that you have no say in the matter—that you must lie there, undressed, with an ultrasound probe inside of you, and have the images described to you in government-mandated detail over your objection. Even if the patient has already had one or more ultrasounds performed. Even if the fetus has been diagnosed with a condition incompatible with survival. Or even if the patient is pregnant as a result of sexual assault, and having to watch and listen to the ultrasound over their objection forces them to relive that trauma.

The law has been condemned by reproductive rights groups, the American Medical Association (AMA), and more that 130 biomedical ethicists.

"There is no medical requirement for this on every abortion procedure," wrote public health researcher Dr. Daniel Grossman.

Rather, a number of critics on social media wrote, the goal of the law is to "shame" patients who seek abortions.

"Mandating transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortion care is not only medically unnecessary—it's violently invasive," tweeted NARAL Pro-Choice America. "This law shames women for accessing basic care. But that's the entire point."

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