North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban is set to take effect July 1. Abortion rights advocates filed a federal lawsuit, calling some of the provisions unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable. But a judge has yet to schedule a hearing in the effort to delay the law.
The General Assembly passed the new abortion law quickly after months of backroom negotiations. The law did not go through the standard procedure of committee hearings and debate. The legislature successfully overrode the governor’s veto on March 16.
“In a rush to ban abortion and take away our fundamental rights, the General Assembly passed a hastily drafted 45-page bill that is full of dangerous abortion restrictions,” said Kristi Graunke, with the ACLU of North Carolina, the lead attorney on the lawsuit.
“The General Assembly has once again shown us that they put politics before people by cavalierly disregarding the suffering of people most impacted by this sloppily drafted bill,” she said in a statement. She said the provisions in the law contradict each other and will lead to confusion for doctors and patients.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly said the bill was a compromise among members in the GOP caucus. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the legislature.
“This bill is mainstream and a common-sense approach to a very difficult topic,” Sen. Vicki Sawyer, a Republican representing Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, said as the state Senate moved to override the veto last month.
The law bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, about the first trimester. There are exceptions for rape and incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, and danger to the life of the mother.
The lawsuit, brought by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, notes the law contracts itself on medication abortion. One provision bans medication abortion after 10 weeks, but another provision states medication is allowed up to 12 weeks.
The law is vague on whether or not abortion providers can help their patients get an abortion in another state after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“Given the hurried passage of this bill without guidance from the medical community, S.B. 20 lacks clarity and asks patients and health care providers to overcome impossible hurdles to obtain and provide care,” said Dr. Beverly Gray, a plaintiff in the case.
“These hurdles are not based in science but are unreasonable and will make it virtually impossible for many people to receive abortion care in our state,” she said in a statement.
It’s been almost a year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion. The decision left abortion access up to state legislatures. Abortion in North Carolina had been legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The new abortion laws beginning in July ban almost all abortions after 12 weeks.
The limit is extended to 20 weeks in cases of rape or incest, but those abortions would have to be performed in a hospital and not in a clinic.
The law states that there does not have to be a police report to qualify for an exemption for rape or incest. A woman who gets pregnant through rape or incest would only have to tell her doctor.
The situation is different for minors, because doctors would be required to report to police if a minor says they were the victim of rape or incest.
In cases of “life limiting” fetal anomalies, abortion would be allowed through 24 weeks. That includes genetic of physical disorders that could be diagnosed before birth. The law does not specify which conditions qualify under this exception.
There is no limit on abortion when the life of the mother is at risk.
In the lawsuit filed Friday in Greensboro, plaintiffs argue that the law is too vague and contradicts itself.
The plaintiffs are Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which serves North Carolina, and Gray, an OG/GYN who provides abortion care.
They argue that the statute “contains numerous inconsistencies and irrationalities in the 12-week ban itself.” The law repeals a different law that listed conditions when abortion was legal and would not violate the state’s fetal homicide statute.
“The Act creates confusion about whether lawful abortion remains exempted from the fetal homicide statute,” the lawsuit states.
It’s also unclear if medication abortion is allowed up to 10 weeks or 12 weeks because of contradictory provisions in the law.
There are also issues with the 72-hour waiting period required by the new law. The suit claims it’s not clear if that also applies to mothers who are having a medical emergency. It also claims it is not clear what happens when a doctor does not have all the required information at the first appointment, such as whether an abortion would be covered by health insurance.
The plaintiffs in the case also argue that the new law is not clear on whether or not doctors are allowed to help women get abortions out of state after 12 weeks.
“Starting July 1, patients and health care providers in North Carolina will be forced to endure the harms of this sweeping abortion ban and its tangled web of medically unnecessary, inconsistent, and dangerous restrictions on care,” said Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
“Senate Bill 20 is much more than a ban on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy — it contains a multitude of new restrictions that make it difficult to get an abortion across the board,” Black said in a statement.
The lawsuit asks the court to step in and issue an injunction before the law takes effect July 1. As of Wednesday afternoon, the court has not scheduled a hearing in the case.