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In-depth interviews with abortion providers around the state show that a 2011 law did not result in significant barriers for patients, but for providers, who had to comply with many changes from the law.

By Hyun Namkoong

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly pushed through a controversial law that put up what some call barriers to abortion and what others call more informed consent.

The Woman’s Right to Know law requires a doctor to show a patient ultrasound images and describe them and have the woman sign a form that various stipulations of the law have been performed. Photo credit eyeliam, flickr creative commons

Findings from a study done by researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill show that the passage of HB 854 hasn’t affected patients very much, but abortion providers in North Carolina have had to make several changes to the way they operate to comply with the law’s mandates.

Mara Buchbinder, who presented the findings at the American Public Health Association Conference in New Orleans this week, told an audience that the study shows that the new law created extra work for providers.

The law, also known as A Woman’s Right to Know, requires the “voluntary and informed consent” of a woman before an abortion can be performed. To be considered “voluntary and informed consent” under state law, specific conditions must be met. Providers are required to orally inform patients of nearly a dozen points of information in the 24 hours before the procedure.

For example, providers must inform patients of alternatives to abortion and that the father is legally liable to provide financial support for raising a child.

Buchbinder and her colleagues from the obstetrics department of the School of Medicine at UNC conducted in-depth interviews with providers, which found that they had to hire additional staff, reassign job duties, reorganize clinical procedures and provide counseling during non-business hours to comply with the recent law.

She said that the law created a “speed bump” that patients had to face to access care and that scheduling difficulties were one of the main challenges for patients.

The law requires women to wait 24 hours between scheduling an abortion and having the actual procedure. And while providers had to make a number of changes to comply with the law, they tried their best to “make lemonade out of lemons,” Buchbinder said.

“While [providers] hated the law, they saw there was a value to turn the experience positive,” she said.

Because the law requires providers to go through a laundry list of information that they must discuss with patients, the study results show that the additional time that was required to provide the mandated information led to better rapport between patients and providers.

The controversial law faced significant opposition not only from pro-choice organizations but also from then-Gov. Bev Perdue, who vetoed the bill. Her veto was easily overridden by both chambers of the legislature.

Anti-abortion organizations supported the law, saying that it provided important information. But pro-choice organizations criticized the law, arguing that it was “one of the cruelest such measures ever passed in the country,” according to a press release from Planned Parenthood.

The most controversial part of the law required providers to show patients ultrasound images and describe them, but U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagle ruled earlier this year that the provision of the law violated providers’ right to freedom of speech.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia is currently reviewing an appeal of Eagle’s ruling and oral arguments before the court were made in late October.

Regardless of the ruling, it is possible that the case could be taken to the Supreme Court. Similar attempts to require women to undergo an ultrasound regardless of their consent have been ruled unconstitutional in Oklahoma and Texas.

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Hyun Namkoong

Hyun graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings Global School of Public Health in the health behavior department and she worked as the NC Health News intern from Jan-Aug 2014.