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P.S.C. v. Beshear

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 27, 2017

EMW WOMEN'S SURGICAL CENTER, P.S.C., et al., Plaintiffs,
ANDREW G. BESHEAR, et al., Defendants.


          DAVID J. HALE, JUDGE.

         In January 2017, the Kentucky General Assembly hastily passed the Ultrasound Informed Consent Act, referred to as House Bill 2 (H.B. 2).[1] (Docket No. 1-1) Although Kentucky already had a comprehensive informed-consent law pertaining to abortions, Ky. Rev. Stat. § 311.725, H.B. 2 amended the existing law to require physicians to perform an ultrasound prior to an abortion procedure; display and describe the ultrasound images; and auscultate, or make audible, the fetal heartbeat. Physicians must comply with these requirements even if a woman does not want to receive the information and chooses to avert her eyes and cover her ears.

         Plaintiffs are the only licensed abortion clinic in Kentucky and its three doctors, who provide abortions and other health services. Defendants are various state government officials. Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of H.B. 2, primarily arguing that the law violates their rights under the First Amendment by compelling ideological speech. The Commonwealth argues that the law is within the Commonwealth's authority to regulate the practice of medicine.

         Three similar “speech-and-display” ultrasound laws have been challenged in states outside the Sixth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit upheld Texas's speech-and-display ultrasound law in Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey, 667 F.3d 570 (5th Cir. 2012). Within a year of Lakey, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma concluded that Oklahoma's speech-and-display ultrasound law was facially unconstitutional. See Nova Health Sys. v. Pruitt, 292 P.3d 28 (Okla. 2012) (per curiam). In Stuart v. Camnitz, 774 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2014), the Fourth Circuit explicitly disagreed with Lakey, holding that North Carolina's speech-and-display ultrasound law violated the First Amendment. The main reason for these differing outcomes rests on how the various courts interpreted a single paragraph in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

         Finding the Fourth Circuit's reasoning persuasive, the Court concludes that H.B. 2 violates the First Amendment. Like the Fourth Circuit, the Court recognizes that states have substantial interests in protecting fetal life and ensuring the psychological well-being and informed decision-making of pregnant women. See Stuart, 774 F.3d at 250. However, H.B. 2 does not advance those interests and impermissibly interferes with physicians' First Amendment rights. The Court will therefore enjoin enforcement of H.B. 2.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Prior to H.B. 2, the informed-consent process for abortion in Kentucky was governed by Ky. Rev. Stat. § 311.725. This statute required that, at least twenty-four hours before an abortion was performed, a woman receiving an abortion must be informed of the following:

• the nature and purpose of the abortion procedure to be performed as well as the medical risks and alternatives to the procedure that a reasonable patient would consider material to the decision of whether or not to undergo the abortion;
• the probable gestational age of the fetus;
• the medical risks associated with carrying the pregnancy to term;
• the availability of printed materials published by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that she has a right to view free of charge if she so chooses;
• the potential availability of medical assistance benefits for prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal care; and
• the liability of the father of the fetus to assist in the support of her child.

Ky. Rev. Stat. § 311.725(1)(a)-(b).

         The Cabinet materials referred to in § 311.725 contain two general types of information. The first concerns alternatives to abortion, such as adoption. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 311.725(2)(a). A list of various agencies and the services those agencies offer is provided. Id. These materials also contain information on medical assistance benefits for prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal care, as well as information on the father's child-support obligations. Id. The second type of information is “objective and nonjudgmental” scientific and medical information about fetal development. § 311.725(2)(b). The materials inform the reader of the “probable anatomical and physiological characteristics” of the embryo or fetus at two-week gestational increments for the first sixteen weeks and at four-week gestational increments thereafter. Id. For each stage, the materials must contain a pictorial representation and some other image for scale to reflect the actual size of the fetus. Id.

         Abortion providers challenged these regulations in Eubanks v. Schmidt, 126 F.Supp.2d 451 (W.D. Ky. 2000). The plaintiffs in Eubanks sought to enjoin enforcement of § 311.725 on behalf of themselves and their patients. Id. at 453. The plaintiffs first argued that the requirements placed an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion, particularly for those “who must travel long distances, who have few financial resources, and who have difficulty explaining their absence to employers, spouses, or others.” Id. at 454. This Court concluded that the statute did not place an undue burden on women seeking an abortion in Kentucky. See Id. at 453-57.

         The plaintiffs in Eubanks also challenged the law on First Amendment grounds, arguing that it “compel[led] them to pay for and distribute ideological speech with which they disagree[d].” Id. at 457. Recognizing the brevity of the Supreme Court's disposition of the First Amendment claims in Casey, [2] Judge Heyburn reasoned that “[i]f Kentucky's pamphlets and the resulting infringement on speech are legally indistinguishable from those presented in Casey, then Casey controls.” Id. at 459. Judge Heyburn found that the information provided in Kentucky's pamphlets was “quite similar” to the information provided in Casey. Id. He concluded that “distributing these pamphlets is a reasonable measure to insure adequate informed consent in all cases of abortion.” Id. at 460 (citing Casey, 505 U.S. at 882-83). Because the content of the Kentucky pamphlet was similar to that in Casey, it fell within “the constitutional limits for which Casey stands.” Id.

         Unlike Kentucky's existing informed-consent laws, H.B. 2 was not accompanied by any legislative findings. See Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.710 (containing the General Assembly's legislative findings in support of § 311.725). H.B. 2 imposes additional requirements upon abortion providers and women seeking abortions. Prior to a woman giving informed consent to an abortion, H.B. 2 requires a physician to

• perform an obstetric ultrasound on the woman;
• give a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound depicts;
• display the ultrasound images so that the woman may view them;
• auscultate the fetal heartbeat so that the woman may hear it;
• provide a medical description of the ultrasound images; and
• retain signed certification from the woman that the above information was given.

H.R. 2, 2017 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2017). The only exception to these requirements is for medical emergencies. Id. H.B. 2 further states that “nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the pregnant woman from averting her eyes from the ultrasound images or requesting the volume of the heartbeat be reduced or turned off.” Id. No penalty is imposed on a woman who refuses to look at the ultrasound images or listen to the heartbeat. Id. However, physicians who violate the requirements are subject to penalties including fines of up to $100, 000 for the first offense and $250, 000 for each subsequent offense. Id. Further, courts are to report any violation to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure for whatever action or discipline the Board deems appropriate. Id.

         Because H.B. 2 contained an emergency clause, it became effective immediately once signed by the governor. Plaintiffs filed this action (D.N. 1) and moved for a temporary restraining order to temporarily block enforcement of H.B. 2.[3] (D.N. 3) The Court held an evidentiary hearing on March 23, 2017, on Plaintiffs' motion for temporary restraining order.[4]The parties agreed to advance the trial on the merits and consolidate it with the March 23, 2017 hearing pursuant to Rule 65(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (D.N. 53) The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now before the Court. (D.N. 58; D.N. 59; D.N. 60; D.N. 62)

         II. STANDARD

         In order to grant a motion for summary judgment, the Court must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying the basis for its motion and the parts of the record that demonstrate an absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party must point to specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). “[O]n cross-motions for summary judgment, ‘the court must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration.'” B.F. Goodrich Co. v. U.S. Filter Corp., 245 F.3d 587, 592 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Taft Broad. Co. v. United States, 929 F.2d 240, 248 (6th Cir. 1991)). The Court concludes that there is no genuine dispute of material fact in this case.


         Plaintiffs argue that H.B. 2 violates their First Amendment rights because it compels them to deliver the state's ideological, anti-abortion message to their patients. (D.N. 60-1, PageID # 903) But for H.B. 2, Plaintiffs would not force ultrasound images, detailed descriptions of the fetuses, or the sounds of the fetal heartbeat on abortion patients who do not wish to hear the descriptions or heartbeat or see the images. (Id., PageID # 904) Plaintiffs assert that because H.B. 2 compels ideological, content-based speech, it necessarily triggers at least intermediate scrutiny, which it cannot survive. (Id., PageID # 903, 910) Intermediate scrutiny requires the state to prove that “the statute directly advances a substantial governmental interest and that the measure is drawn to achieve that interest.” Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc., 564 U.S. 552, 572 (2011) (citing Bd. of Trs. of the State Univ. of N.Y. v. Fox, 492 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1989); Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557, 566 (1980)).

         The Commonwealth maintains that H.B. 2 is constitutional because states have the right to regulate the practice of medicine. (D.N. 62-1, PageID # 1820) It argues that H.B. 2 is subject to rational basis review, which requires only that the statute “bear some rational relation to a legitimate state interest.” Craigmiles v. Giles, 312 F.3d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 632 (1996)). But the Commonwealth adds that H.B. 2 could survive even intermediate scrutiny, as the law merely requires physicians to disclose truthful, non-misleading, and relevant information. (D.N. 62-1, PageID # 1825, 1835)

         The Court's analysis will begin with a discussion of relevant authority, including those cases forming the circuit split over the constitutionality of speech-and-display ultrasound laws. Next, the Court will explain that the Fourth Circuit's intermediate-scrutiny approach is appropriate because H.B. 2 compels ideological speech. The Court will then ...

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