District Judge William Osteen has overturned North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban, following 2016 lawsuits filed by the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Calling the law “unconstitutional,” Osteen referred back to Supreme Court precedents set by prior laws, such as Roe v. Wade.
The original law had been in place since 1973, banning abortion after 20 weeks except when necessary to save the life of the mother. In 2015, the medical exceptions were narrowed and made stricter. The pro-abortion groups sued, even though in the 40 years that the law has been on the books, not a single case has ever been prosecuted.
Still, Osteen ruled that any “week- or event-specific” abortion ban is unconstitutional, and that “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 some babies have survived being born as early as 21 weeks, viability is generally defined by doctors to be at approximately 24 weeks, which bolstered Osteen’s decision.
Unsurprisingly, the abortion industry celebrated the ruling.
“This ban is unconstitutional and ignores the unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications pregnant women face,” Genevieve Scott, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Politicians taking medical options off the table for women at any stage of pregnancy is irrational and dangerous.”
Andrew Beck, one of the attorneys for the ACLU who was fighting the law, said to the Washington Post that “[p]oliticians shouldn’t be meddling with women’s health in a way that’s actually illegal.”
But Townhall.com reports that North Carolina’ law is not at all unusual:
North Carolina is not alone in trying to restrict abortion to 20 weeks. Currently about 20 states have already passed a version of this legislation.
Republicans in Congress have also pushed for a national 20-week ban as many have pointed out that with improvements in technology premature babies have survived birth as early as 21 weeks. Recent studies have supported revisiting when fetal viability begins, given the earlier survival rates.
For now, Osteen has issued a 60-day stay on his ruling, so the state has time to appeal his decision if they choose to, or to put new laws into place.
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