North Carolina’s ban on most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy must remain unenforceable, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday, rejecting arguments that the law should be left intact because prosecutors aren’t going after doctors who violate it.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld a 2019 lower-court decision striking down the prohibition, which has been on the books since 1973.
The Republican-dominated legislature in 2015 narrowed the scope of medical emergencies under which a woman would be exempt from the 20-week limit.
That meant more abortions involving unviable fetuses could be considered criminal, raising the fear for abortion providers that they could face prosecution. A U.S. District Court judge in 2019 agreed and blocked the law’s enforcement in situations where the fetus would be considered not viable.
State government lawyers representing some district attorneys and state health officials who were sued argued the abortion providers lack legal standing to challenge the law. Their arguments for the law’s reinstatement are based on the fact that North Carolina has not charged any abortion providers under a pair of laws being challenged, and because prosecutors currently have no plans to do so.