Federal Judge Strikes Down North Carolina Abortion Pill Restrictions


by Elisha Brown, NC Newsline
June 4, 2024

A federal judge on Monday blocked parts of North Carolina’s law on medication abortions.

Under the ruling by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles any health care provider — not just physicians — and pharmacists who are certified can prescribe abortion pills, patients can take mifepristone at home and they no longer have to make three-in person visits to a doctor.

“Yesterday’s ruling from the court is a tremendous victory for thousands of patients statewide, particularly in rural areas, who have been deprived of full access to medication abortion because of the state legislature’s oppressive tactics and maniacal focus on restricting abortion,” Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement Tuesday.  

The lawsuit was filed last year by Dr. Amy Bryant, an OB-GYN in Hillsborough.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who’s running for governor, was named as a lead defendant in the case but declined to defend the law. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore were allowed to defend the laws with private attorneys. They argued that restrictions on mifepristone and abortion were necessary to protect patients’ health and safety. 

In a statement released Tuesday, Stein lauded the ruling, saying:

“Republican lawmakers enacted SB20 to control women. Their sloppy, chaotic law violated women’s constitutional rights and made it harder to get a safe, effective medication abortion. I fought back against the unconstitutional parts of the law that made it harder for women – especially in rural parts of the state – to get the health care they need. I’m proud to defend women’s reproductive freedoms and pleased that this ruling helps women regain some control over their personal health care decisions. Politicians need to stay out of the exam room and leave these decisions to a woman and her medical provider.”

 

Berger and Moore did not respond to a request for comment on whether they plan to appeal.

“Politicians in North Carolina cannot interfere with the FDA’s authority and impose medically unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion care,” Bryant said in a statement. “While the ruling still leaves in place some inappropriate restrictions that are not evidence-based or medically warranted, it will allow for increased access to safe and effective medication abortion care throughout North Carolina.”

Eagles did not grant Bryant’s request to strike down state requirements for an in-person exam, ultrasound, blood testing and a 72-hour consultation before the abortion. She also let stand the provision that requires doctors to report non-fatal adverse events to state health officials. 

Although she issued her final decision this week, Eagles explained her reasoning in a memorandum and opinion released on April 30. She wrote that several of the North Carolina restrictions overstepped the authority of the federal government, particularly the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory powers. 

“These laws frustrate the congressional goal of establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework under which the FDA determines conditions for safe drug distribution that do not create unnecessary burdens on the health care system or patient access,” Eagles wrote. 

She said the provisions that she struck down were “obstacles to Congress’ purpose.” 

But Eagles said other requirements — the in-person advance consultation and exam, ultrasound and blood testing — can remain because they help advance standards of care: “If the only reasons for the in-person exam or the ultrasound were to reduce or manage safety issues related to mifepristone, the plaintiff’s argument would have more force.” 

Eagles’ ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating a medication abortion case. Anti-abortion doctors argue that the FDA should reinstate pre-2016 regulations on mifepristone.

Eagles is not done parsing challenges to North Carolina abortion laws. She will hear arguments Wednesday in Greensboro in a case concerning Senate Bill 20, the 12-week ban that the Republican-controlled legislature passed in roughly 48 hours last spring. State law allows abortions later in pregnancy only in the cases of rape and incest or for life-limiting anomalies.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Dr. Beverly Gray, a Duke University OB-GYN, are suing over mandates that require abortions after 12 weeks to be performed in hospitals and make physicians “document the existence of an intrauterine pregnancy.” Plaintiffs are seeking guidance on the latter provision because early pregnancies cannot be detected on ultrasounds. 

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.





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