Judge Blocks Two Provisions of NC’s 12-Week Abortion Ban

Hundreds of abortion-rights supporters ralied outside the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C, on May 13 to urge Republican legislators to sustain Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of new abortion restrictions. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

By Michael McElroy

October 2, 2023

The ruling does not affect the overall ban, but does temporarily halt measures that medical groups said were vague and medically unnecessary.

A Federal judge blocked two parts of North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban on Saturday, agreeing with medical groups that the provisions were too vague or medically unnecessary.

The judge, US District Judge Catherine Eagle, ruled that the medical groups, who filed the lawsuit against the abortion ban, were likely to succeed in arguing that at least these provisions were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit does not seek to block the 12-week ban itself, but argues that several of the law’s specifics, which were written in secret and over the objections of the majority of medical institutions, form a “tangled web of medically unnecessary, inconsistent, and dangerous restrictions on care.”

The ruling blocks the two provisions from going into effect until the larger case is decided.

The first provision would prohibit doctors from prescribing medication abortion until they order and review an ultrasound. The second would requires that anyone seeking an abortion after 12 weeks under exceptionsfor rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, must have the procedure in a hospital, rather than an abortion clinic.

The medication abortion provision, Eagle wrote, was so vague as to leave doctors without a clear understanding of what was allowed or when. “The provision is open to differing interpretations,” she wrote, arguing the vagueness would subject doctors and other medical providers to “arbitrary accusations.”

Eagle, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled that the medical groups had also “offered uncontradicted evidence” that the hospital provision lacked “any rational medical basis.”

‘Government-Imposed Forced Pregnancy’

The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Beverly Gray, a North Carolina OB/GYN and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which praised the ruling.

“The court’s decision recognizes that abortion is health care and that there is no medical reason to deny even more patients access to this safe, compassionate, evidence-based care,” Jenny Black, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a news release.

“Planned Parenthood South Atlantic remains committed to helping every patient navigate the unjust and inhumane confines of this law, and we encourage anyone in need of abortion care to contact us as soon as possible.”

Gray, who spoke to Cardinal and Pine about the issue before the bill was passed, said the ruling was only the beginning of a long pushback against the 12-week ban.

“Despite today’s decision, North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban has created unnecessary hurdles to obtain care, with providers across the state scrambling to support pregnant women who now face the nightmare of government-imposed forced pregnancy,” Gray said in a statement.

“We will continue to work in our communities to get people the care they need in every way we can under the cruel reality SB 20 has created. We hope for a day when the rights of our patients are restored,” she added.

The bill establishing the 12-week ban was introduced by Republican lawmakers in May and voted on less than 48 hours later, with little public debate and no chance for amendments. The language in many sections of Senate Bill 20 was so vague that even its exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother left lots of uncertainty over how they would be applied. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but the Republican supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly overrode the veto, making it law.

More than 1,400 doctors and other health care professionals sent an open letter to North Carolina lawmakers in February, when it was clear Republican leaders were working toward some sort of restrictions beyond the previous 20-week ban.

Abortion restrictions are dangerous, the medical professionals wrote, and any further barriers to care would increase maternal death rates and further strain the state’s health care system by forcing clinics to close.

“North Carolinians should have the ability to make personal health care decisions with the assistance of their doctors and healthcare team – without the intrusion of politicians,” the medical professionals wrote. “Restrictions on abortion put the government in charge of deciding which healthcare options are available to patients and set a dangerous precedent that violates the sacred patient-clinician relationship.”



  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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