In Stuart v. Camnitz, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of a North Carolina District Court that declared a controversial ultrasound mandate for abortions unconstitutional in 2014. The ultrasound mandate was a part of the Woman’s Right to Know Act introduced in North Carolina in 2011, which placed several restrictions on abortion care providers in the state. If enforced, the ultrasound mandate would have required physicians to perform an ultrasound on every patient before an abortion and simultaneously describe the resulting image of the fetus regardless of whether the woman wanted to hear the description. The District Court ruled the mandate an unconstitutional violation of physicians’ free speech rights. The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision to affirm the District Court’s ruling established that the state could not compel healthcare providers to recite what the court called state ideology to patients against their medical judgment, which broke with precedent set by prior rulings by the Fifth and Eighth Circuit Courts in similar cases.
In the 1972 case Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson, Inc., v. Marks, the Arizona Court of Appeals required the Arizona Superior Court to rehear the case Planned Parenthood Association v. Nelson (1971) and issue a decision on the constitutionality of Arizona's abortion laws. In 1971, the Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson filed the case Planned Parenthood Association v. Nelson asking for the US District Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Arizona Revised Statutes 13-211, 13-212, and 13-213, which made it illegal for anyone to advertise, provide, or receive an abortion. The decision in Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson, Inc., v. Marks forced the Arizona Superior Court to issue a decision on the constitutionality of the Arizona abortion laws, and is one in a series of lawsuits that culminated in the legalization of abortion in Arizona in 1973.
The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was a significant event in the story of fetal personhood—the story of whether embryos and fetuses are legal persons. Roe legalized abortion care in the United States (US). However, the story of fetal personhood began long before the 1970s. People have been talking about embryos, fetuses, and their status in science, the law, and society for centuries. I studied the history of fetal personhood in the United States, tracing its origins from Ancient Rome and Medieval England to its first appearance in a US courtroom in 1884 and then to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973.
The objective of this project was to determine the importance of informed consent laws to achieving the larger goal of dismantling the right to abortion. I found that informed consent counseling materials in most states contain a full timeline of fetal development, along with information about the risks of abortion, the risks of childbirth, and alternatives to abortion. In addition, informed consent laws for abortion are based on model legislation called the “Women’s Right to Know Act” developed by Americans United for Life (AUL). AUL calls itself the legal architect of the pro-life movement and works to pass laws at the state level that incrementally restrict abortion access so that it gradually becomes more difficult to exercise the right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade.
The North Carolina state legislature passed The Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2011, which places several restrictions on abortion care in the state. The Woman’s Right to Know Act, or the Act, imposes informed consent requirements that physicians must fulfill before performing an abortion as well as a twenty-four hour waiting period between counseling and the procedure for people seeking abortion, with exceptions for cases of medical emergency. Then-governor of North Carolina Beverly Perdue initially vetoed House Bill 854, which contained the Act, but the state legislature overrode her veto to pass the bill. In response to a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, and other organizations filed in 2011, a US district court judge blocked the law’s ultrasound mandate from going into effect and a later court case determined that the mandate was illegal. With the passage of the Act in North Carolina, the state passed several abortion regulations and mandated that abortion providers must inform women of specific details about their pregnancy before performing the abortion procedure.
In the 2012 case Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. David Lakey, a US appeals court ruled as constitutional a Texas law that required abortion providers in the state to show women receiving abortions the ultrasound images of their fetuses. The law also required providers to describe the sounds of the fetuses' nascent hearts. In doing so, the court set precedent that ultrasound readings are necessary medical information for pregnant women seeking abortions, increasing the wait-period for women seeking abortions. The decision fueled debates in the early twenty-first century US abouts women's rights to abortions.
The 1973 case Nelson v. Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson established the legality of abortion in Arizona. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the Arizona Revised Statutes 13-211, 13-212, and 13-213, collectively called the Arizona abortion statutes, were unconstitutional. The statutes had made illegal receiving, providing, or advertising abortions. After the Arizona Appeals Court heard the case, it decided that the Arizona abortion statutes were constitutional. However, two weeks later the US Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade (1973) that abortion was constitutional at the federal level. The Arizona court followed the precedent set by the US Supreme Court and amended its decision to rule that the Arizona abortion statutes were unconstitutional. Afterwards, Planned Parenthood, other family planning clinics, and hospitals were legally allowed in Arizona to advertise, discuss, and offer abortions as an option to their patients.
Forbes v. Napolitano (2000) was a US court case that established that Arizona researchers could use fetal tissues from induced abortions for basic scientific research, for instance, as a source of stem cells. The case challenged the constitutionality of the Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 36-2303 in the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, a law that banned researchers from using fetal tissues from abortions for any type of medical experimentation or investigation. The Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals decision in Forbes v. Napolitano set a precedent in Arizona that allowed researchers and physicians to use tissues from aborted fetuses for medical research and treatments. Arizona later passed a state law in 2016 that sought to make obsolete the decision reached in Forbes v. Napolitano by revising ARS 36-2303 to avoid the problems the court had found with it.
Horatio Robinson Storer was a surgeon and anti-abortion activist in the 1800s who worked in the field of women’s reproductive health and led the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the US. Historians credit Storer as being one of the first physicians to distinguish gynecology, the study of diseases affecting women and their reproductive health, as a separate subject from obstetrics, the study of pregnancy and childbirth. Storer was one of the first physicians to successfully perform a Caesarian section, or the removal of the fetus through a surgical incision, followed by the removal of the woman’s uterus, a procedure which would later be known as Porro’s operation. Storer was also an anti-abortion activist who believed that public attitudes toward abortion were too relaxed and that the laws did not effectively punish what he deemed to be the criminal act of abortion. Historians credit Storer with leading the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion, which they consider largely responsible for the increase in laws criminalizing abortion in the late 1800s.