Planned Parenthood sues to block new NC abortion law

The N.C. Senate votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of a bill addressing abortion rules. (Image from WTVD)

Listen to this story (6 minutes)

  • Planned Parenthood and a Duke Health doctor filed a federal lawsuit Friday to block North Carolina's month-old abortion law.
  • The suit complains that the new law adds restrictions that are "unintelligible, inherently contradictory, irrational, and/or otherwise unconstitutional into every part of the abortion process."
  • Both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly voted in May to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the abortion legislation. Its key provision is to restrict most abortions in North Carolina after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood and a Duke Health doctor filed a federal lawsuit Friday to block North Carolina’s new abortion law. State lawmakers voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto to approve the law in May.

The new suit argues that parts of the new law, originally known as Senate Bill 20, are unconstitutional. Challenged sections of the law are scheduled to take effect July 1.

“The Act bans abortion after twelve weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions, and imposes other significant restrictions on abortion access that will harm patients and impede health care professionals from providing quality care,” wrote lawyers representing the abortion provider and Dr. Beverly Gray. “The Act was negotiated by politicians behind closed doors and passed with almost no time for public input or debate. The time between S.B. 20’s introduction of abortion restrictions and its passage was less than 72 hours, which is the mandatory waiting period for abortion in North Carolina.”

“Likely as a result of this hurried process, S.B. 20 has injected requirements that are unintelligible, inherently contradictory, irrational, and/or otherwise unconstitutional into every part of the abortion process,” according to the suit.

The suit complains about “numerous inconsistencies and irrationalities” in the new law. It labels the law’s restrictions on “medication abortion” as “nonsensical.”

Critics also question the law’s impact for pregnant women seeking an abortion beyond the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. “if a person seeking an abortion is past 12 weeks gestation and does not meet one of the narrow exceptions, the Act is not clear as to whether Plaintiffs can assist these individuals in seeking lawful abortion in other states,” according to the suit. “The Act states that ‘[i]t shall be unlawful after the twelfth week of a woman’s pregnancy to advise, procure, or cause a miscarriage or abortion.’ It is not clear if this prohibition applies to helping people access lawful abortion in another state. If that were the case, this provision would violate the First Amendment.”

Planned Parenthood argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision does not insulate the N.C. law from a legal challenge.

“While the U.S. Supreme Court last year held that the right to abortion is no longer a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Constitution nonetheless protects other rights guaranteed to Plaintiffs and their patients by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” according to the suit. “The Supreme Court’s decision did not insulate abortion restrictions from court review if, as here, those restrictions are vague, impossible to comply with, irrational, inflict a high risk of suffering and death for no legitimate governmental purpose, and potentially violate the First Amendment.”

Critics of the new law did not aim their legal complaint at leaders of the N.C. General Assembly, which approved the law. Instead the named defendants include state Attorney General Josh Stein, Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley, nine local district attorneys, the president of the N.C. Medical Board, and the chair of the N.C. Board of Nursing.

Both chambers of the General Assembly voted on May 16 to override Cooper’s veto of the abortion legislation. All Republicans voted in favor of the legislation. Every Democrat opposed it. The 72-48 House vote and the 30-20 Senate vote met the three-fifths requirement for a veto override.

The law made the following changes to North Carolina’s abortion laws:

  • Limit elective abortions in the second and third trimesters.
  • Establish an exception for rape and incest through 20 weeks.
  • Establish an exception for fetal life-limiting anomalies through 24 weeks.

The law maintained an exception to save the life of the mother through the duration of her pregnancy.

Sens. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, Lisa Barnes, R-Nash, Amy Galey, R-Alamance, and Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, released the following statement on the override: 

“This is a monumental moment for women, children, and families in North Carolina. Our bill puts to rest all of the noise and lies we’ve been hearing this past week, and brings to life a culture that cherishes motherhood and saves the lives of the unborn.”

In the House, several key swing Republicans received pressure from left-wing activists, Democrats, and the media to change their minds on Senate Bill 20. None did.

Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, a longtime Democrat who made headlines earlier this year when she announced she was switching parties, released a statement explaining her vote.

After saying she could not support a complete ban or “aborting a perfectly healthy child in the 40th week of pregnancy,” Cotham said she believed that Senate Bill 20 offered a middle-ground approach.

“I — like most North Carolinians — think abortion is a complicated issue without absolute answers,” Cotham said. “After extensive review, I believe this bill strikes a reasonable balance on the abortion issue and represents a middle ground that anyone not holding one of the two extremist positions can support.”

Cotham also said that she had “insisted that any abortion legislation include meaningful support and protections to mothers and children to give them the best chance at a good life.”