(REVISED 6.22.21) This case is a challenge to a North Carolina ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in extremely narrow instances of medical emergency. The case was filed in November 2016 on behalf of abortion providers in the state and their patients seeking abortion care.
On June 16, 2021, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision and rejected the state’s claims that abortion providers did not have standing to challenge the law. The law has been enjoined since 2019, when it was struck down by a federal district court.
Because of this decision, in North Carolina, “patients can access abortion even as politicians throughout the south pass dozens of restrictions attacking fundamental rights,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “As the Court held, ‘[t]he Providers have a right to insist that North Carolina comply with the Constitution — and so do their patients.’”
The Circuit Court ruling comes just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. These kind of bans on abortion prior to viability have been unconstitutional since 1973, when the Supreme Court decided the landmark case Roe v. Wade. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court has agreed to consider whether previability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional.
Since 2011, anti-abortion state lawmakers have pushed through nearly 500 restrictive laws to restrict abortion access, including unconstitutional bans. This is part of a coordinated effort to provoke the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, and to give states—rather than individuals—the power to make fundamental decisions about people’s bodies, health, and lives.
In North Carolina, the Center has also joined litigation to challenge several long-standing abortion state restrictions, including its 72-hour mandatory waiting period, licensing scheme targeting abortion providers with medically unnecessary requirements, ban on telehealth for medication abortion, and physician-only law. Click here for more information on that case.
Plaintiffs: Amy Bryant, M.D., M.S.C.R., Beverly Gray, M.D., Elizabeth Deans, M.D., Planned Parenthood South Atlantic
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Andrew Beck, ACLU Foundation, Christopher Brook, ACLU of North Carolina, Carrie Y. Flaxman &, Maithreyi Ratakonda, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
The Center for Reproductive Rights — along with the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America — filed a lawsuit on November 30, 2016 in federal court challenging a ban on abortion in North Carolina after 20 weeks of pregnancy, as measured from the woman’s last menstrual period (“LMP”). The longstanding ban was amended in January 2016 to make an already narrow health exception even narrower, only permitting abortion after 20 weeks in extremely limited medical emergencies, and constitutes an unconstitutional ban on previability abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Following discovery, we filed a request that the law be permanently enjoined with the trial court on October 30, 2017. On March 25, 2019, the district court ruled in our favor and permanently enjoined the State from enforcing the 20-week ban before viability. The State filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
On June 16, 2021, the Circuit Court upheld the lower court’s decision. “This ruling is a victory for all North Carolinians and is in line with decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Genevieve Scott, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center.