Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Judge strikes down abortion pill restrictions in NC law

The lawsuit over North Carolina’s 12-week abortion law concluded this week with a federal judge’s ruling removing some provisions of the law. (Port City Daily/file photo)

WILMINGTON — The lawsuit over North Carolina’s 12-week abortion law, which took effect nearly a year ago, concluded this week with a federal judge’s ruling removing some provisions of the law. 

READ MORE: Federal judge blocks portion of NC abortion law, no changes to clinic regulations come October

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that Mifepristone, the first pill in a two-step process of medication abortions, does not need to be taken in a clinical setting, as the law mandated. The pill can be provided by pharmacies and not just physicians, and a follow-up appointment after taking the pill is not required, though an advance consultation is.

The ruling is a win for Dr. Amy Bryant of UNC Health, who filed the suit in January 2023 alleging the state’s law regulating the pill was superseded by the Federal Drug Administration’s more lenient policy. 

The lawsuit was filed right after the FDA approved a protocol for certified pharmacies to provide mifepristone directly to patients via in-person or mail-order with valid prescriptions. The pill can only be prescribed up to 10 weeks gestation.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, though the candidate for governor has stated he would refuse to defend the state’s abortion ban, known as Senate Bill 20, in court. He praised Eagles’ decision in a press release. 

“Republican lawmakers enacted SB20 to control women,” Stein wrote. “Their sloppy, chaotic law violated women’s constitutional rights and made it harder to get a safe, effective medication abortion… I’m proud to defend women’s reproductive freedoms and pleased that this ruling helps women regain some control over their personal health care decisions.” 

After Stein backed away from the case, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore were allowed to join in defense of the law. In their court filing, they argued the FDA does not have the authority to issue the final say on abortion regulations.

Anti-abortion advocates were displeased with the decision. 

“This decision puts women’s health and safety at risk so the abortion industry can fast-track dangerous chemical abortions and maximize profits,” wrote the NC Values Coalition, a Christain organization, in a press release. 

This ruling is not Eagle’s first on the state’s abortion law. In September, the judge granted an injunction blocking two other pieces of the law from taking effect in the case Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Beverly Gray MD.

The lawsuit challenges S.B. 20’s prohibition of prescribing Mifepristone when an embryo cannot be detected on the ultrasound, which normally isn’t possible until the fifth or sixth week of gestation. 

Eagle’s blocked this requirement, along with the mandate that those obtaining an abortion after the 12th week — which can only be done in cases of sexual assault and life-threatening scenarios — do not have to get the procedure done in a hospital versus a clinic.

A motions hearing in that case happened Wednesday afternoon in Greensboro. Eagles could make a decision based on the hearing and court files, though a trial is scheduled for July 22. 

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