Supreme Court: Kentucky Abortion Seekers Must Listen to Fetal Heartbeat

The court rejected a challenge to the state’s law, which requires doctors to perform ultrasounds.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a Kentucky law to go into effect that requires doctors to perform an ultrasound on patients seeking an abortion and play the sounds of the fetus’ heartbeat. 

The 2017 law forces physicians to give patients seeking an abortion an ultrasound regardless of whether the patient wants one. It also requires providers to give detailed descriptions of the images and play the sounds of the fetal heartbeat, even if patients are noticeably distressed.

The court rejected a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kentucky’s only remaining abortion provider. The ACLU argued that the law violated doctors’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to provide medically unnecessary and potentially emotionally damaging information to patients. The law had previously been upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals but was on hold pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. In writing for the majority, Sixth Circuit Judge John Bush, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, argued that the law provides “relevant information” and “gives a patient a greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her.” 

Eleven states currently mandate that abortion providers perform an ultrasound on patients who want abortions, and nine of those states require the provider to show and describe the image. The process can be traumatizing for patients, as well as expensive, since the costs of the extra procedure often fall on the patient. According to the American Medical Association, it provides no “additional medically necessary information.” 

“The Supreme Court has rubber-stamped extreme political interference in the doctor-patient relationship,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “This law is not only unconstitutional but as leading medical experts and ethicists explained, deeply unethical.” 

The Supreme Court is set to hear a different abortion case in March over a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A similar law from Texas was deemed unconstitutional back in 2016. However, this will be the first abortion case before the Supreme Court since the appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.