A 1973 North Carolina law that prohibited women from getting an abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy has been struck down by a federal judge.
As NBC News reports, abortion rights groups were prompted to challenge the amendment after lawmakers restricted certain exemptions so that abortions after the 20th week were only permitted when the mother faced risk of death or serious harm. As U.S. District Judge William Osteen noted in his ruling, this meant that even women who faced long-term health complications would not be able to terminate their pregnancies.
The changes also “imposed substantial reporting obligations on abortion providers for any abortion performed after 16 weeks, expanded the universe of medical facilities from which information is collected, restricted the type of doctor who may perform an abortion in the state, and lengthened the informed consent waiting period from 24 to 72 hours,” Osteen wrote.
Explaining his decision to rule the law unconstitutional, the judge said that the Supreme Court has previously upheld women’s right to an abortion before the fetus is “viable,” and “has clearly advised that a state legislature may never fix viability at a specific week but must instead leave this determination to doctors.”
“This decision is just a reminder of what the law is,” said Andrew Beck, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who was on the legal team that challenged the law. “Politicians shouldn’t be meddling with women’s health in a way that’s actually illegal. This decision puts the health and well-being front and center.”
The judge ordered a stay of 60 days, giving the state a chance to appeal his ruling or put forth revised legislation. But as NPR notes, the ruling nevertheless comes as a relief to abortion rights activists concerned about restrictive crackdowns on women’s reproductive rights in several states. Last week, for instance, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a law prohibiting abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which can happen as early as six weeks. Kentucky attempted to do the same earlier this month, but was temporarily blocked by a federal judge.
“Given that there is so much anticipation that the court will undermine or overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, “it is reassuring to see the North Carolina 20-week abortion ban struck down.”
Read more at the Washington Post.