North Carolina legislators are intervening to defend the state’s protections for preborn children after Democratic AG Josh Stein refused to do so, saying he agreed with an abortionist’s arguments against abortion pill regulations.
According to The Carolina Journal, Stein filed a motion last week in which he joined abortionist Dr. Amy Bryant in allowing Republican legislators to defend the law. It’s a somewhat unusual situation, but state law permits the arrangement by granting standing to the speaker of the house and president pro tempore – both of whom filed a motion to intervene at the end of last month.
It comes as states wrestle with the legal implications of last year’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and granted states broader discretion in regulating abortion. Shortly after that decision, North Carolina’s 20-week restriction took effect with regulations related to chemical abortions (the abortion pill).
Among other things, the law requires a 72-hour waiting period before receiving the abortion pill and mandates in-person dispensing – something the FDA scrapped in its latest guidance. Pro-life doctors have argued that the pill itself is dangerous for women and that removing safeguards could have fatal consequences.
Bryant’s lawsuit, as well as one in West Virginia, argues that state abortion pill regulations are illegal because the restrictions they impose go above and beyond what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has outlined in its guidance for administering the pill. In doing so, these lawsuits contend, state regulations are violating the U.S. constitution’s supremacy clause, which allows federal law to pre-empt state policy in some situations.
Opponents argue that these challenges misread the law on preemption while Dobbs clarified that states have broad authority over abortion law. Bryant’s lawsuit, the legislators’ motion said, “seeks to undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization by usurping the authority of the people of North Carolina, acting through their elected representatives, to reasonably regulate abortion in their state.”
The motion points to language in Dobbs asserting the validity of state law that has a “rational basis on which the legislature could have thought that it would serve legitimate state interests.”
Quoting Dobbs, it adds that “these legitimate interests include respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development, the protection of maternal health and safety; the elimination of particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedures; the preservation of the integrity of the medical profession; the mitigation of fetal pain; and the prevention of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or disability.”
Since Dobbs, the state has allegedly seen a 37% increase in women seeking abortions, according to the pro-abortion Society for Family Planning. At least one abortionist recently said state law has prompted them to turn away women seeking the procedure. If this is true, those turn-aways could grow as North Carolina legislators reportedly weigh additional pro-life measures.
WRAL reported on Tuesday that Speaker Tim Moore, one of the intervenors in Bryant’s lawsuit, said the public could expect additional pro-life proposals in early March. It’s unclear what type of pro-life provisions will ultimately pass, as Moore noted the Republican caucus has varying opinions on the topic.
“I’d say there’s support at six [weeks], there’s support at 12,” he reportedly said. “There’s a varied opinion in the [Republican] caucus. There’s some who’d probably say, ‘Leave it at 20.’”
Last week, Bryant and 11 other doctors showed their opposition to additional pro-life protections while standing in front of the state’s legislative building.
“We wanted to get ahead of the game and show our legislature that we, as healthcare professionals, do not accept or condone, in any way, any new abortion restrictions,” Bryant said, according to Indy Week.
She and more than 1,000 other North Carolina medical professionals have signed an open letter describing the restrictions as medically unnecessary. “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,” it reads.
Meanwhile, doctors in Texas could upend access to the abortion pill altogether with a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s initial approval of the drug.
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