US appeals court rules against North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban

North Carolina

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled unanimously on June 16 that a decades-old 20-week abortion ban in North Carolina is unconstitutional, upholding a lower court’s ruling.

“While we’re obviously disappointed by the court’s decision, we maintain our strong belief that life is precious and must be defended at every stage,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose state supports North Carolina in its defense of the pro-life law, said. “That includes safeguarding unborn children from pain, while also protecting the life of the mother. We will review the court’s decision and consider potential options.”

In 2019, District Judge William Osteen overturned the state’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks, following lawsuits filed by the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2016. Since that time, the law, which had been in place since 1973 and prohibits abortion after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother, has been blocked. In 2015, the law was made more stringent, which inspired the lawsuits.

Osteen argued in his ruling that a 20-week ban would outlaw pre-viability abortions, which Roe v. Wade determined states could not do. Preborn children are widely considered to be viable at 24 weeks, though babies born as young as 21 weeks have been able to survive with medical assistance.

READ: Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban to be heard by Supreme Court

According to AXIOS, the state did not defend the law’s constitutionality, but instead argued that the suit did not have standing because there was no credible threat of prosecution for abortionists who commit illegal abortions after 20 weeks. According to Fox News, the court determined that there was no evidence that abortionists were actually committing illegal abortions, and therefore, “we cannot assume the State’s acquiescence in violations of the law.”

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser called the decision “egregious,” adding:

All states should be able to protect unborn children after five months of pregnancy – a point by which we know these babies can feel pain. North Carolinians, like most Americans, reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand through birth and are eager to humanize our laws – advancing legislation this year to stop discrimination abortions and protect babies who survive abortions….

The circuit court is dramatically out of step with the consensus of the people.

The court’s ruling may be appealed by the state of North Carolina to the Supreme Court, which recently agreed to take on the case of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. This could possibly create another opportunity for the Supreme Court to revisit the use of viability in determining at what point during pregnancy states can restrict abortion if the court strikes down the 15-week ban. If the court upholds the 15-week ban, that would signal that it would also uphold North Carolina’s 20-week ban.

While abortion proponents argue that abortion is necessary after viability to save the life of the mother, this is not true. In a real emergency, a C-section is safer and faster for the mother than a days-long late-term abortion, in which the child is intentionally killed prior to delivery.

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