Source: The Associated Press
A federal judge earlier this month ruled that abortions in North Carolina are no longer legal after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Associated Press reported.
United States District Judge William Osteen’s ruling eroded protections in one of the South’s last remaining safe havens for reproductive freedom.
The Aug. 17 ruling was a sharp turnaround from Osteen’s previous ruling in 2019 that halted the 20-week abortion ban in North Carolina. In the latest ruling, the judge said that his previous ruling’s legal foundation was erased once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
According to the AP, Osteen’s decision “defies the recommendations of all named parties in the 2019 case, including doctors, district attorneys and the attorney general’s office, who earlier this month filed briefs requesting he let the injunction stand.”
Osteen wrote that no one who called for the injunction on the 1973 law to remain in place “[has] the right to ignore the rule of law as determined by the Supreme Court.”
Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly filed a friend-of-the-court brief on July 27 calling on Osteen to restore the ban because they knew that Gov. Roy Cooper would veto any abortion restrictions passed in the Republican-controlled legislature. Attorney General Josh Stein had previously rejected the NCGOP’s demand that he bring back the 20-week ban himself.
“Denying women necessary medical care in extreme and threatening situations, even if rare, is fundamentally wrong, and we cannot let politicians mislead people about the real-world implications of this harmful law,” Cooper said in response to Osteen’s decision.
This ruling will deny North Carolinians the right to make their own reproductive health decisions and will also impact those from other southern states where abortion is no longer allowed or has been severely restricted and who need to come to North Carolina for care.
According to the AP, “North Carolina has become a refuge for residents of its more restrictive neighboring states, like South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.”
Cooper signed an executive order on July 6 addressing out-of-state residents coming to North Carolina for abortion. The order shields out-of-state patients from extradition and “prohibit[s] state agencies under his control from aiding other states’ prosecutions of those who travel for the procedure,” the AP reported.
Before Osteen’s ruling, abortions were legal in the Tar Heel state until “fetal viability,” which is usually between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, or in certain medical emergencies.
Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic Executive Director Alison Kiser told the AP that curbing treatment “in a critical access point state” such as North Carolina will have a big impact across the entire southeast.
According to Kiser, the number of out-of-state patients at Planned Parenthood health centers has tripled since the Supreme Court ruling with 36% of abortion patients traveling from outside of North Carolina so far in August. That number was 14% in June.
In defense of the 20-week ban, Republicans have claimed that not much will change for most patients since fewer than 1% of abortions nationwide in 2019 were performed after 20 weeks.
In response to that claim, Kiser told the AP that access to care is essential, even if very few people actually need an abortion procedure after 20 weeks.
“Abortions after 20 weeks are rare, but it’s still incredibly important that people have access to this care,” Kiser said. “The two primary reasons people need abortion care later in pregnancy is because they’ve received new medical information or, and ever more so now, they’re facing barriers that have delayed their care.”
According to Kiser, the biggest delay patients are experiencing is North Carolina’s 72-hour mandatory waiting period to receive an abortion following their first doctor’s visit. The waiting period was extended by the General Assembly in 2015.
The 2015 bill extending the waiting period also changed the state law that Osteen just reinstated by limiting the criteria for medical emergencies that could warrant a person getting an abortion after 20 weeks.
The current 20-week ban on abortions could very well turn into a six-week ban or possibly even a total ban if Republicans pick up five seats in the legislature this November. Doing so would give them a veto-proof supermajority, meaning that not even the governor could do anything to stop Republicans from stripping away reproductive rights even more.
House Speaker Tim Moore said back on July 26 that if Republicans gain a supermajority, “he would like to see the legislature consider banning abortions once an ultrasound first detects fetal cardiac activity — typically around six weeks after fertilization and before some patients know they’re pregnant,” according to the AP.
Simply put, the future of reproductive rights in North Carolina rides on November’s election.