North Carolina’s new abortion law: Where does it stand?

Will North Carolina residents face tougher restrictions on abortions in just three days — starting Saturday, July 1?

That question could be decided today inside a Greensboro courtroom, where a federal judge will hear arguments from two plaintiffs who have sued the state to block large portions of the new abortion law, known as Senate Bill 20.

Under that law, passed by a Republican supermajority over the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, most abortions in North Carolina would be illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy. State law previously had set the limit at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs – Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a physician who performs abortions – have argued in court filings that some provisions of SB20 are “unintelligible, inherently contradictory, irrational, and/or otherwise unconstitutional into every part of the abortion process.”

They are seeking to have the law temporarily blocked by a federal court, and U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles has scheduled a hearing for today.

In an email to QCity Metro, Jenny Black, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, described SB20 as “much more than a ban on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy.” She called the law “medically unnecessary” and  “inconsistent” legislation that places “dangerous restrictions on care.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat who supports abortion rights, has said his office won’t go to court to defend portions of the new law that he deems to be unconstitutional.

To address some concerns about the new abortion law – and to render the plaintiff’s lawsuit moot – Republican lawmakers this week passed, with broad support from Democrats, a series of amendments seeking to clarify some provisions of SB20.

For example, the clean-up language makes clear that medication abortions are permitted through 12 weeks, the same as for surgical abortions.

The amended language also makes clear that it wouldn’t be illegal for someone to help a woman obtain an abortion outside of North Carolina in states where the procedure is lawful, and that a lawful abortion is an exception to North Carolina’s fetal homicide statute.

The revisions, tucked inside a broader health bill, now go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who vetoed the original abortion bill, only to see his veto overridden by the Republican supermajority. Cooper has not said publicly whether he will sign the bill that includes the revisions.

Also unclear is whether the proposed revisions will impact how Judge Eagles views the lawsuit, which seeks to stop the new abortion restrictions from taking effect in just three days.

If Cooper vetoes the revisions, a GOP override may not be completed until July or August, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported, citing court papers filed by Ellis Boyle, a private attorney representing House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger.

QCity Metro Publisher Glenn H. Burkins contributed to this report.

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