The North Carolina Republican-controlled General Assembly finalized changes to looming abortion restrictions on Tuesday in the hopes that the current litigation, which attempts to keep significant parts of the legislation from taking effect this weekend, would be derailed.
The House voted in favor (115-4) of the Senate’s amendments to the law that bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy starting this Saturday. These amendments were described as clarifying and technical. The 12-week ban would replace the present restriction on most abortions after 20 weeks with new exceptions for rape, incest, and life-limiting fetal defects.
This month, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and an abortionist filed a lawsuit against the state for allegedly ambiguous and inconsistent legal requirements that leave medical professionals uncertain of their legal obligations.
Rather than let parts stand that they argue will ultimately be knocked down, they moved last week to temporarily block the implementation of portions of the law, including the 12-week restriction. On Wednesday in Greensboro, there will be a hearing regarding that proposal.
On Tuesday, attorneys for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger told U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles that a temporary restraining order was unnecessary since the bill containing the cleanup language to the regulation will shortly be adopted.
In a court brief, Berger and Moore’s private attorney Ellis Boyle argued that the court would be wasting its time deciding these hypothetical questions.
The bill will now go to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who in May rejected a law restricting abortions despite his support for the practice. The Republicans’ supermajority in the Senate and House allowed them to override Cooper’s veto.
The revised law may face a similar veto override scenario. While an override is possible now, Boyle admitted it might not be finalized until late July or early August.
Attorney Peter Im representing Planned Parenthood wrote on Monday that a temporary restraining order would still be necessary if the planned changes were not signed into law by Saturday.
A request for comment on the amendments, included in a larger health agency measure now headed to Cooper’s desk, was sent to his office on Tuesday but went unanswered.
The revised language addresses several of the provisions mentioned in the lawsuit.
For instance, it specifies that medical abortions, also known as surgical abortions, are legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Another amendment clarifies that it would not be unlawful to assist a woman in obtaining an abortion in a state where it would continue to be permitted beyond the scope of the new North Carolina ban.
Because of his position as Attorney General, Democratic abortion rights supporter Josh Stein is the primary defendant in the case. Last week, however, Stein said that his office would not defend some aspects of the new abortion law in court because he agreed with the challenges that these measures violated the Constitution.
On Tuesday, Stein’s office filed a motion in favor of a temporary restraining order, arguing that the revised bill’s proposed amendments still don’t clarify that North Carolina doctors can assist their patients in obtaining abortions in other states.
Democrats in the House and Senate voted against the new abortion bill by expansive votes this spring. Still, they joined Republicans in passing an amendments cleanup.
Senate Democrats successfully had their Republican colleagues adopt some of the proposed changes.
On Tuesday, House Republicans invoked parliamentary procedure to prevent further discussion. Still, Wake County Democrat and vocal abortion law opponent Rep. Julie von Haefen tweeted that the changes show the law was poorly drafted.
In addition, von Haefen stated that she voted in favor of the amendments because they enhance patient access, and it is always preferable to improve a bad law even somewhat.