JURIST Digital Scholars
North Carolina federal judge strikes down 20-week abortion ban
© WikiMedia (James McNellis)
North Carolina federal judge strikes down 20-week abortion ban

A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled Monday that a law preventing abortions after 20 weeks is unconstitutional.

Before this ruling, the statute made allowances for abortions after 20 weeks only if a substantial risk “threaten[ed] the life or gravely impair[ed] the health of the woman.”

US District Judge William Osteen Jr. deviated from a magistrate judge’s recommendation to dismiss the case due to a lack of standing, instead granting summary judgement to the challengers.

In his order, Osteen found that North Carolina’s abortion statute was contrary to US Supreme Court precedent. Referring to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, Osteen wrote, “a state is never allowed to prohibit any swath of pre-viability abortions outright, no matter how strenuously it may believe that such a ban is in the best interests of its citizens or how minimal it may find the burden to women seeking an abortion.”

“While viability is the point at which the state’s legitimate interest rises to a level that may support an outright ban (with appropriate health exceptions),” Supreme Court precedent advises legislatures to avoid evaluations of viability based on a fixed number of weeks after the pregnancy begins. This evaluation of viability should be reserved for the medical community and allowed to evolve with modern advancements.

As a result of this judgement, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-45.1(a) is enjoined in so far as it “prohibits any pre-viability abortions.”

This ruling thwarts recent attempts by North Carolina lawmakers to introduce a bill that would ban abortions after 13 weeks.