Supreme Court Disappoints With Its Ruling on Kentucky’s Ultrasound Law

Trisha Maharaj, Grassroots Advocacy & Outreach Fellow

Photo above: United States Supreme Court building, Washington, DC © Diego Grandi |

On December 9, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a Kentucky law requiring health care providers to display and verbally describe fetal ultrasounds to patients, and, when possible, to play audio of fetal “heartbeats” for patients to hear, before performing the abortions patients are there to receive. Because the court declined to hear the challenge to the law—brought by Kentucky’s only abortion provider, EMW Women’s Surgical Center—it will now go into effect.

This is a devastating blow to the rights of patients and providers alike. By forcing them to undergo narrated ultrasounds, often against their will and while in an exposed and vulnerable position, the law disregards the needs of patients. It also makes no exceptions for those who are survivors of rape or incest.

In a state-mandated attempt to stigmatize and shame people seeking abortions, providers will now be forced to perform this punitive charade—even if they believe the ultrasound may be traumatic or harmful to their patients. There is no medical or scientific basis for this law, and it has been condemned by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, and over 130 leading biomedical ethicists. The ACLU, which represented EMW Women’s Surgical Center in its challenge to the law, argues it is unconstitutional because it violates providers’ right to free speech and says that it is “deeply unethical.”

A patient undergoes a pregnancy ultrasound © Rafael Ben Ari |

This law ignores patients’ health and wellbeing and the professional judgment of providers in order to push the state’s anti-choice ideology. Under the guise of ensuring informed consent for those seeking an abortion, the Kentucky law forces patients to endure an invasive, potentially humiliating or traumatic experience as some sort of sick hazing ritual just to get the health care that they need and are entitled to receive.

The law is a glaring attack on the reproductive rights of people in Kentucky. In a state where there is only one clinic that provides abortions, this law creates another hurdle to overcome for residents to access safe and legal care.

By upholding the law, the Supreme Court has let us all down. It has sanctioned state interference into individuals’ health matters—allowing the government into the middle of decisions that should be made between patients and their providers. Now, more than ever, we need to stand up and tell lawmakers that our bodies are our own and our choices are none of their business.

Categories: Blog