A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit — including one judge, Julius Richardson, who was appointed by ex-President Donald Trump — has unanimously ruled that a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in North Carolina is unconstitutional and must remain off the books. The decision upholds a ruling from a lower level federal court that previously struck down the ban. The original law allowed for abortions in certain instances involving so-called medical emergencies, but that was far from enough according to the judges handling the case.
The original lawsuit that preceded the earlier lower court ruling was filed after state legislators in North Carolina limited what medical emergencies could legally allow for an abortion and imposed punitive restrictions like a 72-hour waiting period for individuals seeking abortions in the state. Federal Judge Diana Motz, who wrote the opinion for the appeals court panel in this case, commented as follows:
‘As a nation we remain deeply embroiled in debate over the legal status of abortion. While this conversation rages around us, this court cannot say that the threat of prosecution to abortion providers who violate the law is not credible… Amidst a wave of similar state action across the country, North Carolina has enacted legislation to restrict the availability of abortions and impose heightened requirements on abortion providers and women seeking abortions. Given these facts, we cannot reasonably assume that the abortion ban that North Carolina keeps on its books is ‘largely symbolic.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, which currently has a conservative majority on the bench, announced earlier this year that they’d hear an abortion-related case. Specifically, they will be considering a challenge to a ban in Mississippi on almost all abortions after the 15-week mark of pregnancies. Conservatives have sought to undercut the 1973 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that established the legality of abortion in the United States. Doing so would, of course, threaten the availability of a basic medical procedure, sending the country further into dangerously precarious conditions.