Planned Parenthood tweaks lawsuit against NC abortion regulations

Legislators meet in committee. (Image from YouTube)

Listen to this story (6 minutes)

  • Planned Parenthood and a Duke Health doctor have amended their lawsuit against North Carolina's new abortion law.
  • Acknowledging that state lawmakers addressed many of the complaints cited in the initial lawsuit in June, the plaintiffs still challenge three portions of the new law that took effect July 1.
  • U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles has scheduled a Sept. 21 hearing about a possible preliminary injunction against portions of the law.

Planned Parenthood and a Duke Health doctor have updated their lawsuit against North Carolina’s new abortion regulations. They filed an amended complaint Monday in advance of a return trip to federal court in September.

A Sept. 21 hearing in Greensboro before U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will determine whether portions of the abortion law will face a preliminary injunction.

Eagles issued an order on June 30 that placed a temporary restraining order on one section of the law. It dealt with a documentation requirement for doctors using abortion drugs. Eagles allowed the rest of the law to take effect on July 1. The law, Senate Bill 20, limits most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The new 28-page complaint acknowledges that lawmakers made changes through House Bill 190 that addressed many complaints found in the original lawsuit filed in June. At that time, Planned Parenthood and Duke Health Dr. Beverly Gray had asked Eagles to block the entire law from taking effect.

“As a result of the changes to the Act, many of Plaintiffs’ original claims have been resolved,” plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote. Three complaints remain. First, plaintiffs “maintain their due process challenges” to the new law’s “IUP Requirement.” The law requires a doctor to document an “intrauterine pregnancy” on a woman’s medical chart when using abortion drugs. That’s the section of the law Eagles blocked in June.

Second, Planned Parenthood challenges a “hospitalization requirement” set to take effect Oct. 1. The law says abortions provided under limited circumstances after 12 weeks of pregnancy must take place in a hospital rather than abortion clinic.

Third, “Dr. Gray adds to the Amended Complaint allegations about the vagueness of the Induction Abortion Ban.” The updated lawsuit mentions a “lack of clarity as to whether a hospital can provide an induction abortion, which involves the use of medication, to a rape or incest survivor after the twelfth week of pregnancy.”

“Plaintiffs who fail to comply with the Act will face disciplinary action, and violations of some sections of the Act carry felony criminal penalties,” lawyers wrote in the updated complaint.

“The Act will harm North Carolinians by delaying — and even, at times, denying — their access to necessary health care,” lawyers argued. “The IUP Documentation Requirement will harm patients by preventing them from accessing medication abortion before an intrauterine pregnancy can be seen on ultrasound. This may delay patients’ access to abortion care, unnecessarily exposing them to increased medical risk, or compel them to consider a procedural abortion, even though for some patients, medication abortion offers important advantages over procedural abortion.”

“For example, survivors of sexual assault may decide to have a medication abortion because they do not want instruments placed in their vagina,” the complaint explained. “This is relevant to the IUP Requirement as well as the Induction Abortion Ban, which seemingly prohibits the use of medication to induce abortion in the second-trimester in the hospital setting for sexual assault survivors. Moreover, an induction abortion may be safer and faster for some patients.”

“And the Hospitalization Requirement will have devastating consequences for survivors of sexual violence and patients with diagnoses of ‘life-limiting anomalies’ by limiting the number of providers available to these patients, increasing the expense of abortion and delaying or denying access to desperately needed care,” lawyers wrote. “These heightened barriers will force patients who are already facing personal hardship and even trauma due to the circumstances of their pregnancies to remain pregnant against their will even longer.”

The suit labels the abortion law “an attack on families with low incomes, North Carolinians of color, and rural North Carolinians.”

“While the U.S. Supreme Court last year held that the right to abortion is no longer a fundamental substantive due process right under the Fourteenth Amendment, that amendment nonetheless protects other rights guaranteed to Plaintiffs and their patients,” plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote. “The Supreme Court’s decision did not insulate abortion restrictions from court review if, as here, those restrictions are vague, irrational, and inflict a high risk of suffering for no legitimate governmental purpose.”

Additional court filings from all parties in the case are expected in the coming weeks. Briefs will be finalized by Sept. 12.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and state Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley are named defendants in the case, along with local district attorneys and leaders of the N.C. medical and nursing boards.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, are “intervenors” in the case. Eagles issued an order earlier this month allowing legislative leaders to defend the law moving forward. Berger and Moore asked to intervene after learning that Stein would not defend the law in court.

Eagles’ Sept. 21 hearing will not involve testimony from witnesses. “The motion for preliminary injunction will be decided based on the record, and the Court does not contemplate receiving live evidence,” Eagles wrote on July 6.