RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — Abortions are legal in North Carolina up until the “point of viability,” but that wouldn’t be the case if a federal court had not blocked part of a North Carolina law that banned abortions after the first 20 weeks except in the case of certain medical emergencies.

Now, North Carolina State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore say that the federal court has no grounds on which to block that 20-week abortion ban and are calling on Attorney General Josh Stein to put the law back into effect.

What happened today?

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade and kicked the right to ban abortions back to states. While some states saw abortion bans go into effect immediately through trigger laws, North Carolina was not one of them. 

What is North Carolina’s current abortion law?

As North Carolina law is currently written, it is legal to “advise, procure, or cause a miscarriage or abortion” within the first 20 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. It is also legal to do so after the 20th week “when the procedure is performed by a qualified physician licensed to practice medicine in North Carolina in a hospital licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services, if there is a medical emergency as defined by G.S. 90-21.81(5).” That statute defines a medical emergency as a situation in which, “in reasonable medical judgment,” the mother is at risk of death or “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including any psychological or emotional conditions.”

In 2019, however, a federal court issued a ruling in the case of Bryant v. Woodall which meant that women could get an abortion “beyond the 20-week deadline set forth in the statute, through the point of viability,” Stein said.

What does this mean for abortions after 20 weeks?

At this point, the answer is unclear.

State law protects abortions up to 20 weeks, but its Bryant v. Woodall that protects abortions regardless of medical necessity from that 20-week mark until the “point of viability.”

Stein acknowledged that Bryant v. Woodall was based on Roe v. Wade “and its progeny,” but he said it is not yet certain what the Dobbs ruling means for Bryant v. Woodall.

“The impact of Dobbs on Bryant v. Woodall’s ruling that currently allows for abortions after 20 weeks but before the point of viability will need to be determined,” Stein said.

“Now is the time”

When the Supreme Court began its review of the Dobbs case last July, Berger and Moore wrote to the North Carolina Department of Justice, asking it to defend North Carolina’s abortion law as written, including the ban on abortion after 20 weeks barring medical necessity.

“Though you chose not to take any further action at the time, your office told us that it would continue to follow the case to consider ‘any appropriate actions when the [Supreme] Court issues a ruling,'” Berger and Moore said. “Now is the time.”

They say that with Supreme Court’s ruling, the basis for the Bryant v. Woodall case was erased and there is nothing standing in the way of North Carolina’s law banning abortions after 20 weeks except in the case of “medical emergencies.”

“We respectfully call on you and the Department of Justice to take all necessary legal action to lift the injunction currently barring the full enforcement of our State’s abortion restrictions,” they wrote.

Berger and Moore asked Stein to answer by July 1.

“If we do not receive a response, we stand ready to take the necessary steps to restore North Carolina’s abortion laws to where they were before Bryant struck them down,” they wrote.

When could North Carolina see possible change to abortion laws?

Members of the General Assembly said in the spring that they didn’t expect a push for a change in abortion laws in this short legislative session, citing two primary reasons: Gov. Roy Cooper likely would veto any such bill, and Republicans who oppose abortion rights would not have a supermajority to overrule that veto.

The earliest North Carolina could see action on abortion from the General Assembly would likely be in January.

“While I remain unequivocally pro-life, the short budget adjustment session does not afford us sufficient time to take up the issue,” Moore said in a statement. “However, North Carolinians can rest assured that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that current restrictions on the books will be enforced. North Carolinians can also expect pro-life protections to be a top priority of the legislature when we return to our normal legislative session in January.”

State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), the House majority whip, reiterated that position. “Probably not this session,” Hardister wrote in a text message to WGHP. “we will work on plans in the interim and take action next year.”