Judge allows North Carolina’s revised 12-week abortion law to take effect

Headline Legal News

A federal judge ruled on Friday that nearly all of North Carolina’s revised 12-week abortion law scheduled to begin this weekend can take effect, while temporarily blocking one rule that doctors feared could expose them to criminal penalties.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles sets aside that rule but allows the law’s remaining provisions to begin on Saturday while litigation continues.

Abortion providers had last week requested a blanket order halting all of the July 1 restrictions pending their court challenge. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a physician said several sections in the newly revised law were so vague and seemingly contradictory that doctors could unintentionally break the law, leaving them unable to care for women seeking legal abortions.

But the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation this week revising or repealing nearly all of the challenged provisions, making arguments against most of them moot. Among other things, the lawmakers clarified that medication abortions will be legal in nearly all cases through 12 weeks, and that a lawful abortion remains an exception to North Carolina’s fetal homicide statute.

Eagles, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, had said in court that it would be overly broad to block enforcement of the entire law. Instead, she directed that for at least the next two weeks, the state cannot enforce a rule saying doctors must document the existence of a pregnancy within the uterus before conducting a medication abortion.

The abortion providers’ lawyers argued that the language raised questions about whether abortion pills can be dispensed when it’s too early in a pregnancy to locate an embryo using an ultrasound — subjecting a provider to potentially violating the law.

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