A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that a North Carolina law banning abortions after 20 weeks is unconstitutional, according to Reuters. The law has been in place since 1973, and only allowed abortions after 20 weeks in the case of a medical emergency.
U.S. District Judge William Osteen ruled that bans on “week- or event-specific” abortions are unconstitutional, a broad rebuke not just of North Carolina’s law, but many abortion laws across the country. The order will take effect in 60 days. It’s likely that the state will appeal or propose new legislation in that time.
In his decision, Osteen wrote that “a state is never allowed to prohibit any swath of pre-viability abortions outright, no matter how strenuously it may believe that such a ban is in the best interests of its citizens or how minimal it may find the burden to women seeking an abortion.”
This is a pretty progressive statement coming from a federal judge. Even many Democrats have often framed abortions as “acceptable” only if they are a last resort. Osteen’s decision, on the other hand, posits that women should be able to have an abortion for any reason, as long as it’s before a fetus would be viable outside the womb. This is much closer to the “unapologetic abortion on demand” that many reproductive rights activists advocate for.
The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU. It was prompted by a 2015 amendment to the law that further restricted when abortions after 20 weeks were deemed medically necessary.
Like many other states, North Carolina is in the midst of an ongoing controversy over abortion laws. Republicans in the state proposed a bill earlier this year that would have banned abortions after 13 weeks, when many women are unaware they’re even pregnant. Now it seems that law won’t pass, unless this decision is reversed.
But restrictions on abortion are still spreading. Earlier this month, Mississippi enacted a law banning all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be heard. A similar law was enacted in Kentucky, and others have passed one branch of state legislatures in Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee. In Arkansas and Utah, legislatures passed laws that would ban abortions after 18 weeks.
“There’s been a span of politicians trying to ban abortion whether it’s at six weeks or 20 weeks,” the ACLU’s Andrew Beck told the Washington Post. “We should all be concerned that there are extreme politicians across the country passing bans on abortion... This is all happening at a state level.”
However, many of these laws have been struck down in the courts. Kentucky’s heartbeat bill was blocked before it could be implemented. Many pro-life abortion opponents have hoped that a new Supreme Court majority could overturn Roe v. Wade, but in the last few months, Chief Justice John Roberts has twice sided with pro-choice judges on abortion decisions.
“This decision is just a reminder of what the law is,” Beck says. “Politicians shouldn’t be meddling with women’s health in a way that’s actually illegal. This decision puts the health and well-being front and center.”