In March, U.S. District Judge William Osteen, Jr. struck down a longstanding North Carolina law that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergency. At the time of the decision, Judge Osteen wrote that the state did not have the right to impose a ban that prevented a woman from choosing to have an abortion prior to viability, and referenced the Supreme Court’s “clear pronouncements on the pre-viability right to choose to have an abortion” as decided over 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade. At the time, Judge Osteen stated that the decision would take effect in 60 days.
On Friday, those 60 days were up. Judge Osteen formally issued his decision, stating that the 60-day delay had been designed in part to “permit full consideration of legislative alternatives,” or give legislators time to replace the law with another. This has not happened.
Osteen’s decision reinforced that Roe is still the law of the land, a pronouncement that may come under contention as a spate of new abortion bans pass across the country and are likely to be challenged in court. There are concerns that laws such as the recently enacted Alabama abortion ban or the Georgia fetal heartbeat bill could be the catalysts for overturning Roe, and some lawmakers, such as Iowa State Representative Shannon Lundgren, have explicitly stated that challenging Roe is their primary goal. “It is time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life,” said Rep. Lundgren in 2018.
“[O]pponents of abortion rights are emboldened,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in a statement last Thursday. “They know they have a friend in the White House, and they think the Supreme Court might be theirs as well.”
Judge Osteen’s ruling comes as a victory for the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood.
The state has 30 days to appeal the ruling. The case is currently under review by the North Carolina Department of Justice, which will confer with legislative leaders before deciding whether or not to appeal.
Aditi Kharod is a student at UNC Chapel Hill and an intern at NC Policy Watch.