A federal judge on Saturday blocked two provisions of a near-total ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy from taking effect in North Carolina, saying that one of the provisions is unconstitutionally vague, while the other lacks medical evidence.
Senate Bill 20, dubbed the “Care for Women, Children and Families Act,” bans any licensed physician from performing abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. It provides exceptions in the case of rape and incest through 20 weeks of pregnancy or in the event of a “life-limiting anomaly” through 24 weeks.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood and physician Beverly Gray jointly filed a lawsuit on June 26 challenging the bill before it took effect on July 1, arguing its restrictions on abortion access will “harm patients and impede health care professionals from providing care.”
In an order issued on Saturday, US District Judge Catherine Eagles halted the enforcement of a provision requiring surgical abortions administered after 12 weeks to exclusively take place in hospitals rather than abortion clinics. She said the plaintiffs showed the state legislature’s “absence of any rational medical basis” for the mandate, which was set to take effect on Sunday.
“There is credible evidence, including at least one study, that second-trimester surgical abortions in outpatient facilities are safer than hospitals,” Eagles’ order states.
The judge also blocked a provision that would require doctors to document the location of early pregnancies with ultrasound evidence before prescribing a medication abortion. In the injunction, her order says provision “does not provide a clear standard by which providers can make this determination” and is open to “differing interpretations.” Judge Eagles issued a two-week restraining order on that provision in July to allow for further review.
The governor signed into law significant changes to the ban on July 29, saying the amendment was “important to clarify the rules and provide some certainty.” The state’s Republican-controlled legislature also made additional last-minute changes to the new abortion law by tacking them onto House Bill 190 – an unrelated measure focusing on the Department of Health and Human Services.
CNN previously reported that legal filings from attorneys representing Republican leadership appeared to confirm the amendment was written to address a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, which flagged multiple inconsistencies and potential constitutional violations in the original text of the abortion law.
Under the bill, an abortion could be performed by a physician if a doctor determines the procedure is necessary to avert a patient’s death – “not including psychological or emotional conditions.” It prohibits health care providers who object to abortion “on moral, ethical, or religious grounds” from being required to participate in medical procedures that would result in an abortion.
Plaintiffs praise court decision
The plaintiffs challenging the law praised the judge’s order on Saturday, saying the court’s decision “recognizes that abortion is health care and that there is no medical reason to deny even more patients access to this safe, compassionate, evidence-based care,” reads a statement from Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
North Carolina ACLU Legal Director Kristi Graunke said the order is “one step forward in fighting back against these harmful bans.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit but released a statement supporting the judge’s order, saying “women, not politicians, should be making these decisions.”
“The law is not based in medical reality, and it was sloppily written,” his statement continued.
Erik Baptist, the lawyer for the defendants and senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom – a non-profit legal group advocating for abortion restrictions, said the bill amounted to “commonsense protections.”
“We will consider all legal options to further support North Carolina’s unborn children and mothers, and the right of the General Assembly to protect its vulnerable citizens,” Baptist said.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher contributed to this report.