- A federal judge has granted N.C. legislative leaders' request to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the state's abortion pill restrictions.
- Lawmakers face a March 24 deadline to respond to the lawsuit from a UNC Health doctor.
- The plaintiff and defendants in the case did not object to legislative intervention.
A federal judge has granted N.C. legislative leaders’ request to intervene in a lawsuit targeting the state’s abortion pill restrictions. An order issued Friday sets a March 24 deadline for lawmakers to respond to the suit.
U.S. District Judge William Osteen issued his order after the plaintiff and defendants in the case filed separate court documents in recent weeks. Each party agreed not to oppose lawmakers’ participation in the case.
Dr. Amy Bryant, the UNC Health doctor challenging the abortion pill law, suggested the March 24 date for lawmakers to “file their answer or motion to dismiss” her lawsuit. In a Feb. 23 filing, Bryant indicated she did “not oppose” legislative intervention. She also said she would “not respond at this time to their misplaced arguments regarding the merits” of her case.
Legislative leaders asked to take part in the lawsuit after N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced he would not defend state law in the case.
The suit Bryant v. Stein, filed Jan. 25, targeted the attorney general, the Orange-Chatham County district attorney, the N.C. secretary of health and human services, and members of the N.C. Medical Board. The complaint did not mention legislative leaders, even though the General Assembly approved the disputed law.
“The Legislative Leaders have an interest in upholding the validity of state statutes aimed at protecting unborn life, promoting maternal health and safety, and regulating the medical profession, “ according to the motion from lawmakers’ attorneys. “North Carolina law designates the Legislative Leaders as agents of the State for the purpose of intervening to defend these statutes. Routine application of recent Supreme Court precedent should make this a fairly simple issue.”
“This action 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,” according to the motion. “It does so by challenging several commonsense health-and-safety laws that have been on the books for years, based on a new and incorrect argument that the FDA’s decision to permit chemical abortion drugs to be marketed under certain conditions means that states cannot enact their own laws regulating the safety of chemical abortion for their citizens.”
The motion cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Berger v. NAACP, in which the high court ruled, 8-1, that lawmakers could intervene in a federal lawsuit challenging the states’ voter ID law.
“The Supreme Court recognized the Legislative Leaders’ significant protectable interest in protecting valid North Carolina laws and potential impairment if they are blocked from participating in a lawsuit about the validity [of] North Carolina laws,” lawmakers argued.
“This case proves the necessity and wisdom of North Carolina’s choice about who can speak on the State’s behalf in federal court,” according to the motion. “Attorney General Joshua Stein is a named defendant who publicly opposes North Carolina’s laws regulating abortion. He informed the Legislative Leaders that he [will] not defend the challenged laws in this case and will affirmatively support Plaintiff’s challenge. That makes the Legislative Leaders’ intervention even more important.”
Bryant, the plaintiff, also took part in a 2016 lawsuit that challenged other N.C. abortion laws, including the ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That lawsuit proved successful for abortion advocates until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling.
Osteen oversaw the earlier case as well. He “vacated and dissolved” his injunction against North Carolina’s abortion law in August 2022. The judge cited the Dobbs ruling in his decision.