NC judge reinstates ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — Abortions in North Carolina are no longer legal after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, undermining protections in one of the South’s few remaining safe havens for reproductive freedom.

US District Judge William Osteen reinstated an unenforced 20-week abortion ban with exceptions for urgent medical emergencies after he said the US Supreme Court’s June decision that Roe v. Wade was overturned, erasing the legal basis for his 2019 judgment, which imposed an injunction against the 1973 state statute.

His decision goes against the recommendations of all named parties in the 2019 case, including doctors, prosecutors and the attorney general’s office, who filed briefs earlier this month asking that the injunction be upheld.

“Neither this court, nor the public, nor attorneys, nor vendors have the right to ignore the rule of law established by the Supreme Court,” wrote Osteen, who was appointed to the court by Republican President George W. Bush.

Unable to pass abortion restrictions that would survive Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, Republican General Assembly leaders urged Osteen to overturn the ban in a July 27 Friends of the Court brief after the state’s Democratic attorney general, an outspoken supporter of the Abortion rights to be reinstated He rejected your request to take the ban to a judge yourself.

Osteen’s ruling adds fuel to an already contentious year of midterm elections after the Supreme Court ruling put a spotlight on state-level politics. North Carolina Republicans in November will aim to win the five extra seats they need for a veto-proof supermajority in the state legislature while Democrats fend off challenges to retain Cooper’s power.

Republican lawmakers say a successful election season could open the door to more abortion restrictions when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year. House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on July 26 that he would like lawmakers to consider banning abortions as soon as an ultrasound first detects fetal heart activity — usually about six weeks after fertilization and before some patients know they are pregnant.

Cooper and other Democrats have already made access to abortion a key campaign issue. The governor signed an executive order on July 6 that protects out-of-state abortion patients from extradition and prohibits state agencies under his control from assisting in out-of-state prosecutions of people traveling for procedures.

North Carolina has become a haven for residents of its more restrictive neighboring states like South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, where abortions are now illegal after six weeks.

Prior to Osteen’s ruling, abortions were legal in North Carolina until the fetus was viable, which is generally between 24 and 28 weeks gestation or in certain medical emergencies.

As other Southeastern states continue to restrict abortion access, Alison Kiser, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic said limiting treatment in “a critical access point state” like North Carolina will have an impact across the region.

The number of out-of-town patients at North Carolina Planned Parenthood health centers has tripled since the Supreme Court ruling, Kiser said. So far in August, 36% of out-of-state abortion patients traveled there, up from 14% in June.

But Republicans argue little will change with the reinstated 20-week ban. In 2019, less than 1% of abortions nationwide were performed after 20 weeks gestation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consistent with data from previous years when access to abortions was protected at the federal level.

“Abortions at 20 weeks are rare, but it’s still incredibly important that people have access to this treatment,” Kiser said. “The two main reasons people need abortion treatment later in pregnancy are because they have received new medical information or, and this is becoming more true, because they are facing barriers that have delayed their treatment.”

The main delay, she said, is North Carolina’s mandatory 72-hour wait to obtain an abortion after an initial doctor’s visit. The General Assembly extended the waiting time in 2015, making North Carolina the fifth state to require a three-day consultation before an abortion — one of the longest waiting times in the country.

The 2015 bill also changed the state law that Osteen reinstated Wednesday, narrowing the criteria for medical emergencies that could justify an abortion at 20 weeks.

Governor Roy Cooper (D) released the following statement:

“While I disagree with this decision, the vast majority of patients will continue to have access to reproductive health care in North Carolina, and I remain committed to protecting them.

“The key issue with this ruling is that it will criminalize essential health care needed in certain exceptional circumstances. Abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy is exceptionally rare and happens because of a devastating health emergency or diagnosis. Denying women in extreme and threatening situations the medical attention they need, even if this is rarely the case, is fundamentally wrong and we cannot allow politicians to mislead people about the real-world implications of this harmful law.”

Additionally, the NC Values ​​Coalition released this statement:

“We are pleased that U.S. District Judge Osteen correctly lifted the injunction against North Carolina law limiting abortion to 20 weeks, despite Attorney General Josh Stein’s refusal to do his job and the extreme The position of the abortion industry assumes that abortion is required for any reason the day of delivery. With the Supreme Court overturning the Roe vs. Wade litigation, the legal basis for the injunction ceased to exist and popular resolve on abortion policy was restored through their elected representatives in the General Assembly. Reintroducing this 50+ year old law limiting abortion to 20 weeks is just the beginning because unborn babies are human beings with human rights and we will work hard to pass laws that protect as many unborn babies and their mothers as possible as possible.”

This is breaking news and CBS 17 will update this story as more becomes available. NC judge reinstates ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy

Dais Johnston

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