RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge placed two parts of North Carolina on lockdown Saturday new abortion law not come into effect while litigation is ongoing. But nearly all of the restrictions approved by lawmakers this year, including a near-ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy, are not specifically challenged and remain in place.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles issued a citation command Stop enforcing a rule that requires surgical abortions that occur after 12 weeks – for example, in cases of rape and incest – to be performed only in hospitals and not in abortion clinics. This restriction would otherwise have come into force on Sunday.
And in the same injunction, Eagles went above and beyond preliminary decision in June an order preventing enforcement of a rule requiring doctors to document the presence of a pregnancy in the uterus before prescribing a medication abortion.
Unless Republican lawmakers defending the laws make successful appeals, the order will remain in effect until a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a doctor who performs abortions challenging the sections is resolved. The lawsuit also seeks to clarify whether drugs can be used in the second trimester to induce labor in a fetus that cannot survive outside the uterus.
The litigation is not directly aimed at overturning the core abortion law passed by Republican lawmakers in May overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. North Carolina had a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks before July 1, but the law then reduced it to 12 weeks.
The law is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling struck Roe v. Wade down, also added new exceptions for abortions up to 20 weeks for rape and incest and up to 24 weeks for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies. An exemption for medical emergencies also remained in place.
Regarding medication abortions, which the bill’s supporters say are permitted up to the 12th week of pregnancy, the new law states that a doctor who prescribes an abortion-inducing drug must first “identify in the woman’s medical record the … intrauterine location of the abortion “Document pregnancy”.
Eagles wrote that the plaintiffs would likely succeed in their claim that the law is so vague that abortion providers would be alleged to have violated the law if they cannot locate an embryo through ultrasound because the pregnancy is so new be.
“Providers have no way of knowing whether medical abortion is permitted at any time up to 12 weeks, as the law expressly states, or whether the procedure is implicitly prohibited in early pregnancy,” said Eagles, who was endorsed by then-President Barack Obama the bench was nominated.
And Eagles wrote that the plaintiffs presented “uncontradicted” evidence that the procedures for surgical abortions – also known as procedural abortions – after 12 weeks of pregnancy were the same as the procedures used to treat miscarriages at that point. Still, women who experience miscarriages are not required to undergo such procedures in hospital, she added.
Republican lawmakers defending the law in court “have presented no explanation or evidence — that is, no rational basis — for this disparate treatment,” Eagles said in her order.
Abortion rights advocates who still oppose the new 12-week restrictions praised Saturday’s ruling.
“We welcome the court’s decision to remove some of the burdensome barriers to vital reproductive health care that have no medical basis,” said Dr. Beverly Gray, gynecologist and named plaintiff in the case.
A spokesman for Senate Leader Phil Berger, one of the lawmakers charged, said Saturday that the Eagles’ order was still under review.
Attorneys for Republican lawmakers said in court filings in September that the provision requiring documentation of an intrauterine pregnancy is aimed at ensuring it is not an ectopic pregnancy, which can be dangerous. And “North Carolina has rationally sought to ensure the safety of women who may need to be hospitalized because of complications from surgical abortions,” the lawmakers said in a legal brief.
Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, abortion rights advocate and Candidate for governor in 2024He is officially the defendant in the lawsuit. But lawyers from his office urged Eagles to block the two provisions, largely agreeing with Planned Parenthood’s arguments. Stein said Saturday he was encouraged by the Eagles’ decision.