Kentucky Abortion Ultrasound Requirement Will Stand, SCOTUS Says

US Supreme Court / Getty Images
December 9, 2019

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case challenging a Kentucky abortion regulation, leaving the law intact.

Without issuing an opinion, the Court summarily denied a hearing to EMW Women's Surgical Center v. Meier. The plaintiffs—an abortion clinic and its operators in Louisville—sought to strike down a Kentucky law which requires doctors to display and describe an ultrasound of the child to his or her mother before conducting an abortion. The law violates doctors' First Amendment right to free speech, plaintiffs argued.

The Supreme Court's decision not to take the case leaves the ultrasound law in place, as a federal appeals court ruled in June that the law did not violate the First Amendment.

The Court did not provide further context for its decision to take the case, such as whether it would have considered a challenge to the law on the basis of the previously recognized constitutional right to an abortion. In the past, SCOTUS has been quick to strike down regulations perceived as an "undue burden" on abortion access, including in 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey and 2016's Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

But since those decisions, the Court has swung to the right, and the choice not to take up EMW may signal that its liberal wing is concerned that taking abortion cases will lead to a rolling back of rulings like Hellerstedt.

SCOTUS is expected to hear one major abortion case, June Medical Services v. Gee, in the coming months. That case, which concerns a Louisiana state law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, may serve as an opportunity for the Court's conservatives to begin rolling back the "undue burden" standard imposed nearly three decades ago.