GREENSBORO, N.C. - A federal district court struck down a longstanding North Carolina law yesterday—a law that banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in a medical emergency. The state amended the law in 2016 to further restrict the already narrow health exception to extremely limited health emergencies. Monday’s decision solely applies to abortions pre-viability. The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood.
The court’s decision will take effect in 60 days. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen, Jr. writes that “State law cannot impose an outright ban that prevents a ‘woman [from] choos[ing] to have an abortion before viability.’” Judge Osteen also references “the Supreme Court’s clear pronouncements on the pre-viability right to choose to have an abortion” as established over 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, Judge Osteen noted that his ruling “accords universally with those of other federal courts that have considered the constitutionality of twenty-week bans and similar week- or event-specific abortion bans.”
“Today’s decision is a victory for the women and doctors of North Carolina,” said Genevieve Scott, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This ban is unconstitutional and ignores the unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications pregnant women face. Politicians taking medical options off the table for women at any stage of pregnancy is irrational and dangerous.”
“Important medical decisions throughout different points of a woman’s pregnancy, including whether to have an abortion, must be left to the woman and her doctor – not politicians,” said ACLU of North Carolina Senior Staff Attorney Irena Como. “North Carolina’s ban was written by politicians to intimidate doctors and interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions. We’re glad the court blocked this harmful and restrictive measure while affirming that people have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about their pregnancy.”
“All decisions about pregnancy, including abortion, are deeply personal and should be decided between a woman and her doctor, without medically-unnecessary interference from politicians,” said Jenny Black, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. "This ruling affirms that right and send a clear message to politicians that women deserve our care, not our judgment.”
Many states have passed pre-viability bans at various arbitrary points in pregnancy. For example, Mississippi and Kentucky passed 6-week bans earlier this month—Kentucky’s has been temporarily blocked by a court and the Center has vowed to challenge Mississippi’s ban before it takes effect in July. Last year, Mississippi passed a 15-week ban, which was struck down by a federal judge in November. Today’s decision reaffirms that bans on abortion prior to viability are unconstitutional under 40 years of unwavering Supreme Court precedent and cannot stand.
The case, Bryant et al. v. Woodall et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.