Abortion Courts Health

North Carolina’s 20-Week Abortion Ban Ruled Unconstitutional by Federal Appeals Court

North Carolina’s ban on abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy was unanimously declared unconstitutional on Wednesday by Richmond, Virginia’s 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The ban had been in effect since 1973 and was enacted as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade. It prohibited abortion after 20 weeks except in the case of medical emergencies.

The three-judge panel was comprised of Judge Diana Motz, an appointee of President Clinton, Judge Albert Diaz, an appointee of President Obama, and Judge Julius Richardson, an appointee of President Trump.

In 2015, abortion providers filed a lawsuit to challenge the 20-week abortion ban because North Carolina’s state legislature had passed further restrictions on abortion access. These restrictions included a 72-hour waiting period before getting an abortion as well as further limitations on medical exemptions.

North Carolina, in its argument, claimed that the state had never prosecuted an abortion provider under the law. For this reason, the state officials argued that abortion providers were not entitled to sue due to lack of serious threat of prosecution.

However, the court rejected this claim and decided unanimously that the law does sincerely threaten to prosecute abortion providers who administer abortions past 20 weeks. Motz wrote in the opinion, “Amidst a wave of similar state action across the country, North Carolina has enacted legislation to restrict the availability of abortions and impose heightened requirements on abortion providers and women seeking abortions. Given these facts, we cannot reasonably assume that the abortion ban that North Carolina keeps on its books is largely symbolic.”

“As a nation we remain deeply embroiled in debate over the legal status of abortion. While this conversation rages around us, this court cannot say that the threat of prosecution to abortion providers who violate the law is not credible,” Motz continued.

In a news release, Genevieve Scott, lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “This ruling is a victory for all North Carolinians in line with decades of Supreme Court precedent. Forcing someone to continue a pregnancy against their will is a violation of their basic humanity, their rights, and their freedom.”

Sources: The Washington Post 6/16/21; The Hill 6/16/21, NPR 6/17/21

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