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Judge: Suit challenging NC abortion regulations can continue

June 4, 2021 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by abortion providers and an abortion-rights group challenging several North Carolina laws restricting and regulating the procedure can continue, a state judge has ruled.

Superior Court Judge Rebecca Holt refused last week motions by Republican legislative leaders, district attorneys and state health officials to dismiss the lawsuit filed last September against them in Wake County court.

The litigation by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, other abortion clinics, several medical professionals and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in Asheville contend the laws violate the constitutional rights of equality and due process.

A three-judge panel will hear the case going forward because the litigation seeks to have the laws declared as violating the state constitution. Those judges, yet named by Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby, also will consider other outstanding dismissal arguments and would preside over any trial.

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The plaintiffs argued before Holt that their challenges warranted the judicial branch to step in, and that abortion providers had suffered “direct injury” to have legal standing to sue. A hearing on the motions was held in March.

“The constitutional challenges asserted in plaintiffs’ complaint present a justiciable issue, as distinguished from a non-justiciable political question,” Holt wrote in her ruling dated May 28.

Lawyers for the legislative leaders who were sued argued the plaintiffs had not established direct injury, and that the General Assembly is permitted to regulate the practice of medicine. State attorneys representing local district attorneys and state health officials also have said their clients had not taken any recent steps to enforce the five laws that the lawsuit challenges.

The plaintiffs have challenged a 72-hour waiting period for a woman to receive an abortion and a law permitting only a “qualified physician” to perform the procedure. They also are fighting a ban on virtual appointments to receive a medication-induced abortion, requirements approved in 2011 that certain information be presented to a pregnant woman, and regulations placed upon clinics the plaintiffs say prevent abortion access.

The lawsuit marks another legal challenge to North Carolina’s abortion laws, which have been grown incrementally restrictive since Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2011.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently weighing a lower court decision that declared the state’s abortion ban after 20 weeks of gestation unconstitutional. The same appeals court previously struck down a portion of a 2011 state law that told abortion providers to show and describe an ultrasound to the pregnant woman.