A federal judge in North Carolina locked temporarily certain provisions of the state’s 12-week abortion ban on Friday, just a day before the sweeping law was due to go into effect.
SB 20 bans abortions in North Carolina after the 12th week of pregnancy with minimal exceptions and imposes several other restrictions on access to abortions in the state. The injunction, issued Friday, allows abortion providers to continue using drugs to abort patients in the early stages of pregnancy.
The order is a culmination of a legal action filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and other plaintiffs, who alleged that several provisions in the original draft bill were inconsistent, vague and unconstitutional.
For example, the lawsuit alleged that the bill was unclear as to whether lawful abortions would remain exempt from the fetal homicide provision. The wording of the bill also made it unclear whether medical providers would be prohibited from performing medical abortions on patients who are 10 weeks pregnant or after the 12th week of pregnancy, and whether a patient with a positive pregnancy test could have a medical abortion if she did the case was detected early by ultrasound.
In an attempt to address the contested provisions, the North Carolina General Assembly agreed HB 190, which clarified many of the allegations made in the lawsuit regarding vague wording and inconsistencies, including noting that medical providers would not be prosecuted for performing lawful abortions. The law also provides exceptions in cases of rape and incest, “life-limiting” fetal abnormalities, and medical emergencies.
A federal judge was scheduled to hear a motion aimed at preventing the law from going into effect just a day after the state’s Republican-dominated legislature sent the bill to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office. CNN reported. Republican lawmakers protested the injunction, dismissing it as invalid under the newly revised version of the law.
The federal judge said Wednesday that she would not temporarily block most of the newly revised law. Instead, she issued an injunction on Friday to allow medical abortion for pregnancies too early to be detected in the uterus — addressing the only claim in the lawsuit that was not resolved in HB 190. The order is to remain in effect until July 14.
“The court did the right thing in partially blocking this law” dr Beverly A. Gray, a plaintiff in the lawsuit said in a opinion on Friday. “However, patients seeking help in North Carolina will continue to suffer the life-altering effects of being denied access to essential health care due to an arbitrary abortion ban after the 12th week of pregnancy.”
Restrictions on abortion care imposed by SB 20
Even with HB 190 and the injunction, significant restrictions on abortion care will be added to the 12-week abortion ban after SB 20 becomes effective.
For example, abortions performed after the 12th week of pregnancy in people who fall in the law’s exception category must be performed in a hospital – a move that would impose additional healthcare costs on patients. This part of the law is scheduled to come into force on October 1st.
The law also requires all patients seeking an abortion to have two in-person visits, 72 hours apart. Patients who choose medical abortion must also schedule a third in-person follow-up seven to 14 days after the abortion.
These provisions deviate from the Food and Drug Administration’s determination that medical abortions are permissible securely prescribed via telemedicine. Only with 14 abortion clinics in North CarolinaAccording to the plaintiffs and trial attorneys involved in the lawsuit, the additional visits, which are in nine counties, will also likely present an insurmountable hurdle for some patients trying to access abortion treatments.
“Requiring an in-person ultrasound scan and a nurse’s approval 72 hours before the abortion is ridiculous, medically unnecessary and will make it impossible for some people to seek this treatment.” “So many people can’t take time off work, can who don’t have childcare can’t afford to drive away once, let alone twice,” said Dr. Katherine Farris, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, at a news conference Friday.
North Carolina is one of the few Southern states with relatively easy access to abortion care, having had a 20-week abortion ban in place prior to SB 20. Following the fall of the Roe vs. Wade verdict last summer more than a dozen states Across the country, abortions have been banned or no longer available, and several others have imposed restrictions that severely limit reproductive rights.