North Carolina is new Law Banning abortions after 12 weeks not only restricts access to abortion in the state where it happened biggest increase in abortions since the Supreme Court decision Roe vs Wade, but is also the first example since the Supreme Court’s decision that a state is restricting the ways people can say about abortion online. This speech restriction will create confusion for legislators, technology platforms and users alike, ultimately undermining online expression.
North Carolina law contains two provisions that restrict speech. First, the current law provides that: “[i]After the twelfth week of pregnancy in a woman, it is unlawful in North Carolina to induce or induce a miscarriage or abortion.” After a federal district court judge suggested that the law, as it stands, is likely unconstitutional because it relates to counseling another person about how to perform a legal out-of-state abortion, North Carolina agreed that such acts would not constitute a criminal offense under the new law.
However, the state ban on abortion also prohibits purchasing an ad, hosting a website, or providing an Internet service if the purpose is “solely to promote the sale” of an abortion drug taken outside of a doctor’s office, and this law became law not yet reviewed legal challenge. The impact of the law will depend on how courts interpret words like solely. A broad interpretation could prevent platforms from hosting a wide range of abortion-related content and could restrict the right of expression for people inside and outside the state, as they could be held legally liable if their posts were read in North Carolina. That could mean, for example, that a Twitter account with information on how to safely use an abortion drug like mifepristone would be against the law unless it blocked access for all pregnant women in North Carolina. If it doesn’t, it could be the fault of Twitter and the admins of the account fined for any objectionable content.
Courts can find these provisions unconstitutional. In 1975 the Supreme Court ruled held In Bigelow versus Virginia that Virginia could not prosecute a state newspaper publisher for printing an advertisement for legal abortion services in New York. But the court has since pointed out that the decision was based on a constitutionally protected right to abortion (which no longer exists after passage).Dobbs) and has expressed mixed views on when it is constitutional to restrict truthful advertising in states where the advertised activity is illegal.
Courts could also find that state restrictions on speech related to abortion are unlawful if they do so conflict with federal law. For example, Section 230 was partially enacted Create a national standard This would avoid tech companies having to comply with 50 different regulations. But state laws that place platforms under liability for the content they host, like North Carolina law, are at odds with that federal standard.
But whatever the courts decide, laws like North Carolina’s that restrict free speech will inevitably be bogged down in legal challenges for years, slowing the pace of legislation. With laws imposing penalties for what users say, platforms will be forced to choose between restricting more content to limit their legal risk, or restricting less, thereby increasing the likelihood that they have to face the consequences. Over time, users will suffer as well, as these laws create uncertainty about their rights and affect the quality of technical products.
North Carolina became the first state to use an abortion law as a weapon in the online speech wars that followed Dobbs decision, but it probably won’t be the last. It’s common for model legislation to be introduced simultaneously in several state parliaments. If one state succeeds in drafting and passing a bill, it is likely that the same approach will emerge elsewhere. In Texas And IowaLawmakers have already introduced bills that would allow citizens to file lawsuits against technology platforms that host information that “supports or facilitates efforts to obtain elective abortion or abortion-inducing drugs.” South Carolina There were similar laws that would have imposed criminal sanctions.