A North Carolina law requiring doctors who perform abortions after the 16th week of pregnancy to submit ultrasounds to state officials went into effect January 1, adding another abortion restriction to a state already riddled with them.
Approved by the GOP-majority legislature in June 2015, HB 465 imposes a forced 72-hour waiting period on women seeking abortion care, and requires doctors performing abortions after the 16th week to record and submit the “probable gestational age” of the fetus, the measurements of the fetus, and an ultrasound image of the fetus to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Because abortion after 20 weeks is illegal in the state unless the life of the pregnant woman is threatened, the new law requires physicians to submit the “findings and analysis” that prove the existence of a medical emergency if the abortion is performed after 20 weeks.
The waiting period went into effect October 1, and the new reporting requirements took effect at the beginning of January.
Critics of the law, including officials from Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and some Democratic legislators, say its real purpose is to increase the obstacles to safe and legal abortion access in North Carolina. Melissa Reed, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, called the new rules “medically unnecessary and purely politically driven.”
“The true intent of the law is clear—to shame women and intimidate the doctors that care for them,” Reed told the News & Observer in a statement.
Supporters of the law say its purpose is to ensure that doctors are complying with the state’s unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban.
“It should also act as a deterrent to the doctors themselves from lying about gestational age,” Tami Fitzgerald, an anti-choice activist who consulted with the bill’s sponsors, told the New York Times. “The state has made a public policy decision that babies after 20 weeks have a right to live. So this law is about protecting the rights of those unborn babies.”
A DHHS spokesperson said a board-certified obstetrician would review the records doctors submit to ensure compliance.
The law states that this information will be “for statistical purposes only,” and that doctors are responsible for scrubbing identifying patient details. The files will not be included in the public record.
Some critics have expressed concern that DHHS has a poor track record of reliably securing personal information. In October, state Sen. Terry Van Duyn and Rep. Susan Fisher, both Democrats from Buncombe County, wrote a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, outlining their concerns about the new law and the risk it posed to women’s personal information.
Citing a recent instance when a DHHS contractor “lost a flash drive containing the personal information of over 1,100 North Carolina medical providers” as well as an instance in which 49,000 children received the wrong Medicaid card, complete with someone else’s personal information, the lawmakers said DHHS cannot be trusted with the intimate medical records of women who have had abortions.
“Put simply, the collection and review of ultrasounds represents the most invasive foray yet by your administration into the private lives of women,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “These women have every right to be concerned about the security of their records.”