Lawsuit challenging several North Carolina abortion laws withdrawn

Published 5:37 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

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By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

A North Carolina abortion provider, medical professionals and an abortion-rights group have withdrawn their 2020 lawsuit challenging several state laws restricting and regulating the procedure.

The voluntary dismissal document, filed in Wake County Superior Court late last week, doesn’t prevent the plaintiffs from attempting to overturn the laws again in similar future litigation.

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Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the lead plaintiff in the case, didn’t immediately respond on Tuesday to an email request for comment about the decision filed last Thursday. Neither had the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, whose attorney signed the dismissal notice but isn’t a plaintiff.

Five laws approved in the 2010s by the GOP-controlled legislature had been challenged, with the plaintiffs’ lawyers contending in part that the laws burdened the fundamental right of North Carolina citizens “to decide whether and when to bear a child.”

The laws included a 72-hour waiting period for a woman to receive an abortion and limited only a “qualified physician” to perform the procedure. They also fought a ban on virtual appointments to receive a medication-induced abortion, requirements that certain information be presented to a pregnant woman and regulations placed upon clinics that they argued were medically unnecessary.

Attorneys for Republican legislative leaders who were sued had filed their own motion earlier this month asking three judges hearing the case to throw out the lawsuit. Those lawyers contended that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned Roe v. Wade made it even clearer that state lawmakers have the authority to regulate abortion.

The decision “removed any doubt that states have the authority to limit abortion in a way that promotes life and ensures health and safety,” the attorneys for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote Dec. 14.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group helping represent Berger and Moore and which announced the dismissal, called keeping the laws intact “a victory for mothers and unborn children in North Carolina.”

“Every woman deserves to have all the information she needs to make the healthiest choice for everyone involved in an unexpected pregnancy,” ADF attorney Denise Harle said in a news release.

Plaintiffs in the 2020 lawsuit that were still in the case included three physicians, a family nurse practitioner and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in Asheville. Several district attorneys and state government health officials were among the defendants.

The Dobbs v. Jackson ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court already led a federal judge in August to reinstate North Carolina’s abortion ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy. U.S. District Judge William Osteen had placed an injunction on the law in 2019, but he wrote the justices’ ruling erased the legal foundation for his earlier decision.

Moore and Berger have said they plan to consider additional abortion restrictions in light of the Supreme Court ruling after the General Assembly convenes next month. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is an abortion rights supporter who has vetoed restrictions, but his veto power was weakened with GOP legislative seat gains in November.